CLEVELAND — Thoughts of Opening Day and the NFL Draft beyond are bringing a renewed sense of optimism to East 4th Street.
"Anything that attracts people to be enjoying something in common — big,” said Nick Kostis. The owner of Pickwick & Frolic knows that all too well. East 4th Street was virtually empty when he first committed to create an entertainment space on it two decades ago, and at times over the last year, it's felt that way again.
"It's not a city without people. With events, whether they're sporting events or theater events just like our own events, without the events that we do, there's really very little traffic on the street,” he said.
Pickwick reopened mid-July under state-mandated capacity restrictions, with hours limited most weeks to Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They had 80 employees when they closed “we're about 25 to 30 depending on the week and the number of shows that we are able to perform,” Kostis said. It’s been a test.
“We've lost over $950,000, wiped out all of our reserves, we've had to borrow, even PPP funds those are not automatically grants that are forgiven they become loans if you can't meet certain thresholds and we will owe money for PPP,” he said.
Still he invested in a state-of-the-art air system to reduce the risk of transmission with the theater electrostatically spray-disinfected after each show. And as people felt more comfortable going out and entertainers performing, they've added more shows building up to what will be a huge weekend in a month.
"The Draft is an unusually significant event not only for the city but for those of us who have survived thus far,” he said. “Anything that allows for humanity experiencing our streets and sidewalks.”
But with that, Kostis said, comes a new problem: staffing — hiring the people needed to meet the growing demand, especially leading up to the NFL Draft. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance isn't worried.
"I do think the restaurants and the retailers are going to be able to staff up for an event like the NFL Draft,” said Joe Marinucci, President of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. “But is that going to take a little bit for ramp up? The answer is yes, but I'm confident that they'll be able to secure the necessary employees to meet the deemed."
And while there are still empty spaces in prominent places on East 4th Street, there's been interest in filling them.
"I think in 2020 we had 13 new eateries open in downtown Cleveland during the height of the pandemic,” Marinucci said. “So we are seeing additional new investment."
“We had some attrition here,” Kostis said. “But we seem to notice that there is activity around those spaces that have been closed for new operators to come in, so that's encouraging. There is a sense of optimism either because of vaccine or herd immunity. We seem to be heading towards a light that is getting brighter and more optimistic for us to look forward to.”