PHOENIX — It's no secret that restaurants and businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic, but with little to no events or conferences, most people working from home, and, until recently, mostly fan-less sporting events, the foot traffic and lunch crowds that bars, restaurants, and small businesses in downtown Phoenix typically rely on has been stripped for nearly a year.
"Horrible." That's how Donny Phillippi, co-owner of Crown Public House, describes this past year.
His pub is located between Chase Field and Phoenix Suns Arena, an easy stop for lunch for those attending a convention at the Phoenix Convention Center or working in downtown Phoenix, and a spot to grab a bite to eat before or after a game.
With those events gone, business was down as much as 80% compared to the year before.
"It's slowly coming back though, which feels good, but the last year was definitely no fun," he said. The Phoenix Suns have allowed a few thousand fans at some home games and the Arizona Diamondbacks are planning to have 25% capacity at Chase Field.
"We actually had to bring 3 or 4 more staff on," said Phillippi. "Nice to step back and realize that year’s out of the way. It’s gonna be slow to get there but I imagine it’ll be a year to get back to where we were before.
In an effort to help, DTPHX, an organization that works to promote and support the businesses and restaurants downtown, launched "DTPHX Dollars," a $5 same-as-cash voucher that can be used at some 50 businesses in the area.
"We are always looking for ways that we can have real tangible impact on small businesses," said R.J. Price, the chief marketing officer at DTPHX
"Downtown Businesses are suffering just like all businesses are suffering, but I think downtown is unique in that our downtown businesses rely so heavily on convention and special event traffic," he said.
Not having those events and conventions leaves restaurants and businesses with a heavy hit to their daily sales recipients, he said.
The $5 vouchers are good toward the bill (you have to spend at least $5) at one of 50 businesses or restaurants, such as Bitter and Twisted, The Breakfast Club, Centrico, and Cornish Pasty Co.
For the businesses, at the end of each week, they tally up the number of vouchers, give them back to Downtown Phoenix Inc., who then cuts the restaurant a check to account for those vouchers.
The vouchers themselves are not freely available to use or pickup. The organization is targeting those people who are either living or working downtown currently, such as construction sites, residential buildings, even Arizona State University's downtown Phoenix campus, as a way to get those people to spend money at those downtown businesses.
Since the program launched in mid-February and the first public activation happened in March, it's too early to know how many vouchers have been redeemed, said Price.
Two more public distributions of those vouchers are happening on March 17 and April 7. Details are on the DTPHX Facebook page.
Phillippi said he has had a few customers come in with the vouchers. It hasn't been a lot, however, he's grateful to Downtown Phoenix Inc., the downtown Ambassadors, and the other organizations that have helped to raise awareness and support for downtown Phoenix businesses.
"To just encourage people to spend local, come visit our local businesses, our restaurants, our coffee shops, our cultural institutions, said Denvy Preuss, President and CEO of Downtown Phoenix, Inc. "Just another program of ours to help our restaurants weather the storm."
Preuss said that the number of businesses is set to be higher than this time last year.
"This month, we’ll actually have more restaurants open in downtown than we did in March of 2020."
Downtown Phoenix will likely get a boost in foot traffic when the Arizona Diamondbacks start their 2021 season at Chase Field on April 1, allowing 25 percent capacity for fans, or about 12,000 fans.
Last year, Downtown Phoenix Inc. launched "Buy + Fly" an incentive program that rewarded people for supporting downtown Phoenix businesses with branded merchandise.
Price said to date, some 1,000 people have participated in that program.
If you receive a voucher, they can be redeemed at the following businesses:
Andy’s Shoe Shine
Arizona Science Center
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
Blue House Coffee
BoSa Donuts – Arizona Center, Summit at Copper Square, and 101 North
Bowl of Greens – Cronkite/Arizona PBS
Breakfast Club, The – Cityscape
Canyon Cafe – Arizona Center
Cartel Coffee Lab – Downtown Phoenix location only
Centrico – San Carlos Hotel
Cold Stone Creamery – Arizona Center
Convenience Store on Central
Cornish Pasty Co. – Downtown Phoenix location only
Cocina 10 – Crescent Ballroom
Crown Public House
Dapper & Stout Coffee Company
Detroit Coney Grill
Dog Haus Biergarten
Downtown Barber Shop
Everbowl – Cityscape
Herberger Theater Center
Hidden Track Bottle Shop
Hidden Track Cafe
Hooters – Arizona Center
La Madeleine French Bakery & Café
Local Barber & Shop, the
Mac I Am
Majerle’s Sports Grill
Mancuso’s Restaurant – Collier Center
M’ole – 101 North
Omoide Sushi & Noodle Bar – Arizona Center
Paradise Hawaiian BBQ
Perry Monge Salon Spa AVEDA Lifestyle Store – CityScape
Renaissance Jewelers – Orpheum Lofts
Serafina Coffee Roasters
Spoonz Cafe – 101 North
Strand Urban Italian, The – CityScape
Studio B Smiles
Thai Basil Signature
The Kettle Black
Valley Spinal Care
Yogi’s Grill – CityScape
Zen Thai Cafe
Editor's note: This story has been updated. A previous version incorrectly reported that a $15 purchase was the minimum. In actuality, a $5 purchase is the minimum.