ORLANDO, Fla. - First went Chela, then went Ceviche, and now Wahlburgers. These restaurants that have been anchored in the heart of Downtown Orlando are shutting their doors permanently.
“When you see everybody else 'for lease, for lease, for lease,' it’s a domino effect,” said Jeff Borysiewicz, the owner of Corona Cigar Bar.
The cigar shop is one of the few small businesses along Orange Avenue that has been around since 2008. What Borysiewicz sees going on all around him since the pandemic started is concerning.
“You saw Orlando getting better with everything opening up, Dr. Phillips Center and all. Now the trajectory for the city is going down. We’ve got a lot of dark spaces. Windows are taped up, businesses are out of business,” Borysiewcz added.
Thomas Chatmon is the Executive Director of the Downtown Development Board Community Development Agency for Downtown Orlando. He said it is sobering.
"It’s extremely concerning, obviously. We all know we’re in the midst of a global pandemic or war. Downtown Orlando is not immune from the effects of that,” Chatmon said.
Chatmon said the downtown area of Orlando is already seeing the number of small businesses closing in the double digits.
“Just finished three-and-a-half very tough months,” said Chatmon.
He said it is still too early to predict the effect this second round of state-mandated bar closures will do to downtown businesses.
“We’re starting to look at what life, post-COVID-19, might look like in downtown Orlando. That’s going to be a real learning curve for us. Over the several few months we’re going conducting some in-depth research. Sitting down with business owners, stakeholders, residents, and visitors to see how we come out of this on the end,” Chatmon said.
He acknowledged it may take a completely different mindset on how to conduct business downtown.
“Rather than thinking, ‘How can we go back to the way that we were, the way that it was?' perhaps we need to do more forward-thinking. 'How can we come back in a way that’s sustainable, given the realities of the time?'” Chatmon said.