BOSTON – Sidewalks were barren, car-free streets and teeming office buildings in Boston’s financial district closed as employees turned to virtual work environments during the worst of the pandemic in an attempt to stay safe while a deadly pandemic raged across the state.
This is the situation Fóumami owner Michael Wang found himself in almost 17 months ago, when he decided to close his restaurant until the neighborhood returned to some semblance of normalcy. Now, with the state of emergency over and some workers returning to their offices, Wang reopened his business on Wednesday alongside Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey, House Ways and Means President Aaron Michlewitz and from Massachusetts Restaurant Association President Bob Luz.
“The Financial District is a very unique part of Boston that relies heavily on the men and women who come to work here every day,” Wang said. “I am optimistic that today marks a turning point, not only for Fóumami, but for the financial district, this district as a whole as it is starting to show that life is coming back.”
State, city and industry officials touted the reopening as a wake-up call to the Financial District, a business hub that would normally be swarming at lunchtime with employees looking for of a bite. But like most towns and cities, the pandemic has turned the region into a ghost town.
The wrestling restaurants encountered over the past year and a half have been well documented in anecdotal stories of neighborhood place closures. In downtown Boston, a number of established bars and restaurants have closed for good during the height of the pandemic as rent bills piled up and sources of income dried up.
Before the pandemic, there were about 16,000 dining establishments in Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, and since then about 3,200 have closed – about 21% to 22% of all restaurants in the state. Luz said that without the support and efforts of state and city officials, more restaurants would have closed.
“The numbers are tragic and we have suffered heavy losses,” Luz said. “Michael, congratulations. You know, this is important because it is a beacon of hope as we arrive in September. The end of summer, unfortunately, is upon us. We expect a lot. more workers are coming back here over the next few weeks, hopefully months, and bring back the momentum. “
Wang said many restaurants in the Financial District rely heavily on corporate catering, a service that was no longer needed when people started working from home.
“With people working from home and with COVID, and people holding Zoom meetings, all of the corporate catering business has been pretty much wiped out and opened up here with no customers here, you just can’t open up.” , he told reporters outside his company on the corner of Oliver and High Streets.
Janey said restaurant owners have expressed the need for more support from government officials, not only financially, but also in attracting and retaining staff.
“To have a small business owner open up and be a successful restaurant for 10 years and then close for 17 months, I think that underlines the importance of the work we all do together,” Janey said.
But towering over Wednesday’s celebrations was the looming threat of a deadly strain of COVID-19 known as the delta variant that led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new masking guidelines. The CDC now recommends that people vaccinated in areas with high or substantial transmission of COVID-19 wear masks indoors.
The Department of Public Health updated its recommendations late last week, advising vaccinated people living with someone at high risk of COVID-19, those with weakened immune systems or at increased risk of COVID-19 due to their age or state of health to wear masks indoors.