TAMPA — GenX Tavern’s lunch rush doesn’t exist anymore. Happy hour is also struggling.
The downtown restaurant and bar used to be a haven for workers in nearby office buildings. But with COVID-19 keeping people at home, the bar’s is missing out co-workers stopping in for lunch breaks and 6 p.m. cocktails.
“Downtown is probably one of the areas that have been hit the worst,” said the tavern’s owner, Dave Burton. “There is no one really downtown. There are no conventions, no events at the arena. Downtown has been a challenge for a lot of operators.”
In an effort to stimulate businesses, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is using grant money for a new stimulus program called Downtown Dollar. On Wednesday, the partnership will be at Lykes Gaslight Square Park to hand out $10 vouchers that can be used at more than 30 nearby businesses. The vouchers are good for that Wednesday and all of the following day. The partnership will hand out 200 of the vouchers on the first Wednesday of each month from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m through September.
Burton said his business is faring better than others in the area on the weekends because of its proximity to the Tampa Riverwalk, but he hopes the new vouchers will encourage people to venture back for weekday lunches — even if they’re only comfortable getting takeout.
“We’re trying to remind people how much they love our downtown merchants that they haven’t been to in a couple months because they haven’t been into the office,” said Rachel Radawec, the Tampa partnership’s senior manager of public space and community engagement.
The vouchers are not limited to food and beverages, but cover services and goods, too. In addition to GenX Tavern and more than a dozen other restaurants and bars that catered to office crowds, businesses such as City Bike Tampa and Prestige Natural Nail Bar will also accept the vouchers. That could mean $10 off a pedicure or a bike rental. Radawec said it’s a win-win both for residents looking to limit their own spending and businesses longing for an increase in foot traffic.
“This has been a challenging year for small, local businesses, and this is one small way the Tampa Downtown Partnership can help,” CEO Lynda Remund said in a statement.
The partnership will pay for the voucher through grant money from its Special Services District, which was created in 1994 to fund downtown development.
In May, the partnership began giving out $1,000 grants through the same fund to businesses that were struggling because of the pandemic. A partnership survey in April found that shutdown had a high impact on nine out of 10 downtown Tampa businesses. Forty percent of those surveyed said they worried they wouldn’t make it past May.
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“We greatly miss the busy feeling on the street from a pedestrian stand point,” said Tampa City Bike owner Kevin Craft. “It almost that eerie feeling it felt eight, nine, 10 years ago, back when downtown was all commercial and no residential.”
Craft’s business got a major bump in sales at the onset of the pandemic when the bike stock nationwide was drained by people looking to embrace solo outdoor actives. That’s created major supply chain issues that are continuing, even for parts to do repairs. But Craft’s bike rental business has taken a huge hit. At one point, they stopped renting out bikes altogether because it was unclear how the virus spread.
Now the shop has started doing longer term rentals. The vouchers could help bring some short-term rental business back.
“The Downtown Partnership always gets creative when a wrench gets thrown at downtown,” Craft said.
Radawec said on the Fridays after the voucher period, the partnership will go collect its coupons and reimburse the businesses in less than a week. They’ll also be tracking how many coupons get used and other spending trends.
At GenX Tavern, business has been steadily improving since the shutdown. Burton says patrons have been good overall about following mask rules and staying spaced out from others. Weekend businesses has picked up enough that the gap between revenue now and pre-coronavirus is getting smaller. He hopes the new program helps return some of the weekday traffic downtown businesses used to thrive on.
“We’re looking forward to brighter and better days,” Burton said.