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Margaret Woodard: Downtown Augusta’s journey of resiliency in 2020



AUGUSTA, Ga. – The global pandemic of 2020 certainly tested downtown Augusta’s resiliency but is losing the battle as we enter 2021. We still have a ways to go to get to the other side but preliminary indicators predict a brighter than expected outcome for our city center.

Downtown Augusta is so much to so many. It is where our residents come to enjoy a great meal or concert and attend our many unique festivals and events. On average, there are 16,000 employees and customers in downtown on a daily basis and each typically visits 4.5 places of business.

It is where our visitors come to see our cultural amenities and stay in our hotels. Eighty percent of our visitors travel 30 miles and 20 percent, 250 miles.

Finally, it is home to many of our small businesses in Augusta. On Broad Street from 13th to Seventh there are 238 small businesses alone. They include chef-owned restaurants, specialty retail stores and art galleries. These small businesses give us our unique character, provide jobs and fill our tax coffers.

In April, our workforce left and worked remotely from home, our residents and visitors were sheltered in place and our non-essential businesses were closed. In a matter of days, we went from a vibrant city center with flourishing businesses to a ghost town with so much uncertainty it was difficult to navigate the waters.

Our customer base plummeted to zero and our computer inboxes were filled with nationwide predictions. It was estimated that 35% of small businesses across the nation would not survive the pandemic and would close their doors for good by the end of 2020.

Many of our small businesses were able to shift quickly, adopting creative new programs and crafting new ways of doing business. Some garnered state and regional recognition but all of them made us proud.

Most everyone realized quickly the importance of an online presence and got their products on a website. Second City Distillery shifted from bourbon distilling to making hand sanitizer. Keen Printing began manufacturing and installing plastic sneeze guards across the region.

Many businesses made curbside pick-up easy and provided home delivery. There were many successful Go Fund Me campaigns.

Finally, there was a strong call to action from the Downtown Development Authority, Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau and other outside agencies to shop local. The City of Augusta established a small business relief fund program and waived alcohol license fees.

As we enter 2021, a preliminary windshield survey of the Broad Street Corridor reveals we are far from the predicted national closure rate and will see a net gain of new businesses for 2020.

Yes, we lost several small businesses in 2020. Bees Knees, The Hive and Sunshine Bakery have closed indefinitely. American Journeyman and Curvitude have closed their brick and mortar and gone to an online presence. Artsy Me has closed its doors.

But many new faces have joined us. Tech 4 Success and Pineapple Tavern opened days before the pandemic and have thrived. In a recent article in the Augusta Chronicle, Richard Green owner of Tech 4 Success said, “Opportunity knocked. With many people homebound, there was a huge increase in the need for computers.” Allan Soto, owner of Vinea Capital and Pineapple Tavern was recently named Small Entrepreneur of the Year by the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Other new restaurants include Edgars Above Broad, Laziza Mediterranean, Broad Street Bullies Grill and Pasches Soul Food Caribbean.

New specialty retail stores include Sew & Company, Shelvie Jean Boutique, Masters of Paint Gallery and Grantski Records.

Additional businesses are slated to open in the first quarter of 2021 and the housing market remains strong with several new projects under construction.

Please continue to support the many wonderful small businesses in downtown Augusta as we enter the New Year. Restaurants and bars are still operating at a mandated reduced capacity and still need you more than ever.

New businesses will continue to open in downtowns where there is strong loyalty and customer base. We have proven that in downtown Augusta. Let’s continue the momentum to get to the other side of this pandemic.

Small businesses are the faces of downtown. They are our neighbors and friends. They are the heart and soul of downtown Augusta.