CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Uptown Charlotte is known as a vibrant place to live, work and play – usually.
But since the pandemic with so many people working from home and small businesses like restaurants, boutiques even dry cleaners are hurting.
But the WCNC Charlotte Defenders team did some digging and we learned there is new money available to help these businesses figure out ways to stay afloat, helping them figure out where’s the money.
Patrick Whalen is one of the owners of the popular uptown restaurant 5 Church and says uptown is just not the same.
“Right now it's surreal. Mostly it just feels kind of abandoned," Whalen said. "You walk around uptown and it’s at lunchtime there used to be giant lines at the food trucks and a wait at restaurants on Tryon and there’s nobody there- it’s very surreal.”
The once-thriving heart of the city, home to 20,000 residents,100,000 daily workers and more than 18 million visitors a year is usually bustling.
Charlotte Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith said,” Uptown is a very vibrant place- it is our crossroads.”
But even he admits, the center city has lost its lifeblood. The people just aren’t there right now. Many of the big corporations based in uptown are still deciding when people will be back in the office.
"It has had a very dramatic impact on our center city," Smith said.
The owner of Queen City Q saw the writing on the wall back in June when he announced he was closing for good.
“I’m just afraid that uptown is in a lot of trouble here in the next few months and there is no light at the end of the tunnel,' Bryan Meredith said.
Other closures soon followed, including a stretch on Church Street – JJ’s Red Hots closed permanently, B Good now closed and 5 Church recently decided to only do takeout for awhile.
“Not having the critical mass uptown we were a little nervous as to the kind of volume we would do," Whalen said.
Charlotte Center City Partners is trying to help- spearheading the Center City small business innovation fund doling out grants of up to $40,000 to uptown- based small businesses.
"This one is focused on how do we help these businesses that need to adapt so that they can thrive in a COVID world," Smith said.
The money for small business grants is actually coming from big businesses, like Honeywell, Duke and Bank of America.
The hope is that these businesses can figure out new ways of operating and can hang on until we get through the pandemic.
"We’re gonna see some fallout in terms of businesses that can’t make it but I think when the correction happens to normalcy it will happen fairly quickly and hopefully a lot of places will still be standing when that happens," Whalen said.
Smith agreed that Charlotte was in a good position before and will be again. “I’m bullish on the way we’ll respond to this, we just have to get through this together and that’s the way you’re seeing our community response,” he said.
Charlotte Center City Partners is also working with the city on an outdoor dining plan for uptown restaurants to try to offer more options.