CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - At least 416 businesses have closed across the City of Charleston, according to city code enforcement officials.
City Planning Director Jacob Lindsey says that number is unprecedented, as is the historically low hotel occupancy rate.
“We don’t know the exact number [of close businesses],” Lindsey said. “We are currently doing that update. We know we have seen an impact. We have seen the closure of many businesses. And that is evident for anyone who walks or drives through our central business district. We are currently doing doing a count so we know exactly how many and what type of businesses have closed.”
Code enforcement officers are using on-the-ground vacancy checks and business license records to create a report, hopefully by the end of the month.
Tony Cuajunco with Holy City Hospitality said while their Vincent Chicco’s Italian restaurant is still closed except for small events, they’ve slowly opened other restaurants Virginia’s on King, Rue de Jean and Coast back up.
“The most important thing was to make sure we’re doing everything safe. Make it feel comfortable not only for our staff but for guests also. With that in hand, we took every compliance we could and read up on it and opened our restaurants one at a time to perfect those,” he said. “You walk in and every table is pulled 6 feet apart. We go by what the fire marshal says 50% occupancy. Everything was done right and I think we’ve benefited from doing things right since the beginning.”
From a strictly business sense, it might seem like a good thing if there aren’t many other restaurants open. But Cuajunco says that’s just not the Charleston way.
“There are some staple restaurants that have closed down and it’s very, very sad... being part of Charleston, we want to see all of our business is open again and that’s just what Charleston is,” he says.
Closed businesses range from bars and restaurants to home businesses and contractors.
Lindsey said Mayor Tecklenburg and City Council created a special commission to boost revitalization of businesses.
“It’s called the Central Business District Improvement Commission," he said. "We’ve been working with this group for a couple months now and have some phenomenal ideas about how to keep our city safe, clean and open for business.”
He said they’ll present those new policy ideas to city council soon.
Meanwhile at an event last Friday, U.S. Congressman Joe Cunningham said help should come from the feds, too.
“We need to hammer out a solution and realize that everyone may not get everything they want. But the American people in American businesses just like this one are suffering. We can’t just sit on the sidelines,” Cunningham said.
Cuajunco pointed out the boarded-up shops downtown aren’t just from COVID impacts, but also from businesses badly damaged during riots in May.
“I walked back up to my restaurant at 7 a.m. and there were already 200 people in the streets cleaning up glass. Again, that’s the community side,” Cuajunco said.
He feels the best their industry can do is keep their employees and guests safe as we return to a sense of normalcy.