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Tracking the Reopening of Commercial Districts

  • Insights

Even as most of the country has shifted from stay-at-home to safer-at-home orders, for many of us, dining out and shopping remain unlikely experiences in the near term. As each state takes on a varied approach to reopening, our Research + Analysis team is keeping its pulse on reopening plans by closely tracking the changes in regulatory guidelines laid out by states with regards to retail stores and restaurant occupancy. Here are some of our most recent takeaways:


+ Northeast and California reopen slowly: Comparing restrictions geographically across the nation, the two markets hit hardest by COVID-19 these last few months are also the same ones reopening cautiously. From the tri-state area to Massachusetts, most of the Northeast region still has not lifted any restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants. They remain limited to take-out and delivery services except in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, where restaurants have resumed dining service with outdoor seating only.

+ Outdoor dining makes up for restrictions on indoor restaurant occupancy: In Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and other states that have reopened indoor dining with limited occupancy, restaurants have turned to creative ways to expand their services outdoors on private patios and parking lots with at least six feet of separation between tables and limited group sizes. In response, cities are also stepping up to support outdoor seating, whether in parklets or on sidewalks, by easing regulatory processes, suspending codes, and waiving permitting fees for existing parklet/ outdoor café programs. Where such programs do not yet exist, cities have mobilized to establish temporary permits to allow local restaurants to set up tents and use parking lots for outdoor seating.

+ Self-serve areas are a no-go: Even as states such as Arizona and Georgia reopen their restaurants with little more limitations than having tables separated at least six feet apart, self-serve sections of restaurants such as salad bars, drink stations, and buffets continue to be restricted to limit customer contact with surfaces and to avoid clustering of customers within confined spaces.

+ Rule of ten prevails: Entertainment venues such as movie theaters, casinos, arcades, night clubs, and sporting venues that encourage the gathering of ten or more people remain restricted across most markets. While some states such as Tennessee, Florida, and Texas have begun to reopen gyms, they have restricted occupancy to 25-50% and maintained closure of common areas that might encourage close contact between customers such as locker rooms and showers.

+ Appointment only: Even as close-contact services such as salons and barbers begin to reopen across the country at limited capacities (50% and up), states continue to restrict service to appointment-only. No walk-ins are allowed for almost every state to date to allow sufficient turnaround time for store managers and staff to disinfect and clean between appointments.

+ Uncertainty in the reopening of retail: Beyond retail store openings for delivery, fulfillment, and in-store/curbside pick-up, retail seems to be getting a wide range of reopening treatment across states. At this time, allowable capacities of retail stores range from as low as 20% to full reopening with limited guidance on physical distancing.


As the weeks unfold, we’ll continue to pay close attention to changes in regulatory restrictions and assess impacts on the recovery of commercial districts. If your downtown or city is interested in creating a safe and comprehensive strategy to reopening retail, restaurant, and hospitality services, please contact Nur Asri, Senior Research Strategist, Research + Analysis.


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