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Downtown Indy business owners say business is improving since start of pandemic

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Posted at 10:57 PM, Apr 29, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — 13 months into a global pandemic and the state of downtown Indianapolis is seeing improvements.

That's the assessment of Downtown Indy Inc. and a number of business owners who have a front row seat to all the downtown happenings.

"I think the state of downtown is becoming more vibrant," Mark Dobson, a business partner at The Block Bistro and Grill on Market Street said. "It's coming back to life to what it used to be."

The restaurant opened just over three months ago and has never seen downtown business in a non-pandemic state. Dobson said that despite the lack of regular foot traffic, the business has done well and is even exceeding expectations, thanks to the Big Ten tournament back in March.

"That was an excellent shot in the arm. It was a super-boost in the arm," Dobson said. "I think we had a good success. A lot of the people who came in for the tournament, they continue to come back.

While business is doing well, it would be doing better if more people were working out of their downtown offices. A report released on Thursday by Downtown Indy Inc. said downtown lost 85% of its 154,000 daily workers due to stay-at-home orders at the beginning of the pandemic. Those empty office buildings have been bad news for Dobson, and his next door neighbor at Jack's Donuts.

"We get a lot of our business from the hotels, the hospitals, with the Pacers. I mean, we did a lot of business with all of them and so, they're not coming back to work," Chris Karnavas with Jack's Donuts said. "They don't have the customers coming in so they're not buying. It's a trickle effect from start to finish."

Karnavas said his donut shop has seen an uptick in business when conventions are in town, thanks to the number of hotels that still haven't returned to serving food as a result of the pandemic or staffing shortages.

"After the conventions leave, we get back to being very slow. As you can see, it's what, five o'clock in the afternoon and it's pretty dead down here," Karnavas said.

Karnavas said downtown is in much better shape than it was this time a year ago, and Dobson is optimistic downtown will only get better with each coming month in 2021.

"We're on the way. In some aspects we are on the right track of being back. I can't say we're 100% back because downtown isn't fully open, but it's a positive," Dobson said.