Downtown Portland business owners looking for returning office workers to spend local

Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 11:12 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - The business environment in downtown Portland has changed a lot since closures because of COVID-19 and the many days of protests, violence and damage in 2020. But there is still a long turnaround to go.

The businesses that have since reopened downtown said the key is to support one another. U.S. Outdoor Store owner Ed Airniello and other business owners are asking for the community’s help.

“The pushback is help us take care of the city,” Airniello said. “As we make each grade forward, we have to hold it.”

Airniello decided to move his store from Southwest Broadway to Northwest 14th Avenue in the Pearl District after having break-ins during the riots.

Other businesses are still struggling. After fighting to make it through the pandemic and riots that kept many visitors away, many businesses say they need sustained support from the community. They said it’s the only way to get downtown back to its full potential.

Full interview with U.S. Outdoor Store owner Ed Airniello

“There are a lot of restaurants in the area, small shops,” Airniello said. “This Pearl District is literally a pearl in the rough of what we may have seen in the last few years.”

He said this is an example of a pocket downtown that is starting to rebound.

Patrick Gihring works closely with the city of Portland to get people hired downtown. He said he’s starting to see more people come back to offices downtown.

“I think it’s on the upswing,” Gihring, the chief program officer at Work Systems, said. “We’re tracking the data, the data is moving. In terms of office returns, it’s trending in the right direction but it’s trending slowly.”

Gihring said it has taken a lot of work to fill downtown jobs again, especially service jobs like restaurants and retail.

“They’re not just restaurant and retail (jobs),” he said. “That’s what Portland is about. The vibrant culture, including our food scene here.”

There are other things that are helping, such as the mobile app Kuto. The app steers customers to local businesses and it saves businesses money on transaction fees. Airniello said since more people started using the app his business has doubled on weekends.

Gihring said ideas like this will bring more workers back to downtown.

“We just want to do what we can to help the city bounce back, to help business districts bounce back,” he said. “To see our workers get into good jobs even if they’ve been affected.”