Press release

Ready for the Return of Customers

JoAnn Loviglio
T 215.440.5546


New CCD/CPDC Report Tracks Challenges and Signs of Revival in Center City

PHILADELPHIA (February 23, 2021) – The combined impact of the pandemic and stay-at-home directives from the City and State significantly reduced the numbers of people coming to Center City each day and eroded the customer base for the 2,000 retail, restaurant and service businesses within the downtown. Between February and December, Philadelphia lost 68,100 jobs (9%).The biggest declines were in the categories of accommodation and food services, a loss of 28,000 jobs – 46% of employment in these sectors citywide.

A new Center City District/Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CCD/CPDC) report, Ready for the Return of Customers: Center City Restaurants & Retail examines the current state of the downtown restaurant and retail sectors.  Using pedestrian, transit and parking occupancy counts and detailed visual surveys of almost 2,000 retail premises, conducted by CCD staff, the report provides a close-up look at business conditions, supplementing this with information from the commercial office sector, employment trends, housing market data and ecommerce trends.

Restaurants and food establishments account for 628 (32.6%) of all Center City ground-floor premises, retailers numbered 554 (28.7%) and service establishments (banks, gyms, salons, laundry services, first and second floor medical and legal offices) accounted for 497 (25.8%). Of the 1,927 premises, 248 were vacant (12.9%) and listed with brokers, 102 (5.3%) were closed with no sign of leasing activity and 238 (12.4%) were temporarily closed, with information about reopening either posted on the storefront or online. Based on these sources, 76% of restaurants that were closed expect to reopen and 58% of closed retailers expect to reopen.

Key findings in the report include:

1. Philadelphia retailers and restaurants have shown extraordinary creativity and resilience during a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, preserving jobs while serving residents and essential workers.

2. Downtown residents, numbering 67,000 in the core and another 128,000 in surrounding neighborhoods, have sustained retail and restaurant demand.

3. Despite the rise of ecommerce, Philadelphia’s retail employment at the end of the year is higher than in January 2020, mostly due to the rise of employment in big box retail and grocery stores.

4. The City’s support for closing streets to accommodate outdoor seating has been a lifeline for restaurants and reassuring sign of enduring vitality for city dwellers and visitors. Outdoor seating within the CCD’s boundary increased from 2,997 seats in June to 5,152 in September and remained at 4,699 during an unseasonably mild December. That number dropped to 3,716 in January, a relatively modest decline given the onset of cold weather requiring heated temporary structures and the limited return of indoor dining

5. The number of boarded up premises within the District declined from 276 in June 2020 to 78 in January 2021 (including 33 that were closed prior to the pandemic). This represents just 4% of downtown storefronts.

6. The largest number of businesses that closed between September 2020 and January 2021 were restaurants without covered outdoor seating that decided to conserve resources; 76% of these expect to reopen when restrictions lift and customers return; 58% of closed retailers expect to reopen. Overall, in 2020, 35 new retailers opened in Center City. They join four major residential towers, two office buildings and one medical building now under construction in Center City, clear signs of confidence in downtown.

“If you go to almost any beach-front community along the Jersey shore now, you will find about 90% of all stores and restaurants closed. That is because the seasonal tide of visitors is at its low point. Something analogous is going on in Center City, due to the pandemic and stay at home directives,” said CCD President and CEO Paul R. Levy. “But unlike the shore, Center City is doing much better, first, because it has a much larger year round population. Second, we benefit from a 12-month source of very diverse consumer demand. As soon as more office workers and non-essential health care workers come back to their desks, as soon as hotels begin to fill up, arts and cultural institutions are fully open and city and regional shoppers and tourists return, the restaurant and retail economy will rebound.”

To view and download the 12-page report, visit


Center City District, a private-sector organization dedicated to making Center City Philadelphia clean, safe and attractive, is committed to maintaining Center City’s competitive edge as a regional employment center, a quality place to live, and a premier regional destination for dining, shopping and cultural attractions. Find us at and on Facebook and Twitter.