Over the last couple of decades, Seattle’s downtown grew to be as bustling, lively and filled with opportunities for entertainment as any city center in America. Then COVID-19 came to town.

Now, the heart of our city is sick with the economic fallout from the pandemic. For close to 12 months, most of us have been staying close to home because of COVID-19 fears, avoiding crowds and contact. In the process, our vibrant downtown has been forsaken.

Restaurants, from those serving cutting edge cuisine to the small shops catering to the lunchtime crowd, have closed. Scores of them may never open again. Hotels are nearly empty. Theaters are dark. Retail stores are struggling to survive. Skyscrapers are bereft of folks coming into town to work. Tourists are scarce. Up and down the city streets, windows are boarded up. Graffiti has spread like a virus. Shoplifters and other criminals are the only ones thriving in the decay. 

The end of the pandemic is now in sight, though still several months away. Can we expect downtown to get its mojo back whenever that new normal arrives? Will the tourists return? Probably. Will shoppers return? Maybe not as many, now that buying online has become an even more ingrained habit. Will renters show up to fill all the new in-city housing that has been built? A big maybe.

The most significant question may be this: Will the thousands of workers who filled up all those new, shiny office towers come back? It is likely that a big share of them will not, now that companies have learned they can operate perfectly well with employees working from home. That will create an unhappy ripple effect from the commercial real estate market to the corner coffee shops.

Our downtown will certainly bounce back, but it may not bounce as high as it once did.

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