EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — When walking or driving through downtown El Paso, you will notice numerous empty storefronts and for lease signs.
According to the El Paso Downtown Management District, Downtown was growing at the start of the pandemic but that growth came to a halt.
“We’ve seen our share of businesses have to close down. In conversations with business owners, they’ve done everything they possibly could over the last year-plus to try and survive,” said Joe Gudenrath, executive director of the El Paso Downtown Management District.
The international bridges remain closed to non-essential travel, which is also having an effect on the downtown economy. The extension for non-essential travel lasts through April 21, but could be extended once again.
“The area that’s taken the hardest hit is the El Centro retail district because of the bridge closure,” said Gudenrath. “A lot of those businesses relied on 70, 80 percent of their business was from the Mexican shopper.”
He added that businesses near the Paso Del Norte Bridge have adapted and have been able to survive the pandemic. While bridge traffic slowed significantly during the pandemic, San Jacinto Plaza has remained a popular spot for El Pasoans.
However, the San Jacinto Plaza area also saw a loss in businesses but the Downtown Management District is confident that new investments around San Jacinto will bring businesses back.
“While we have a few empty storefronts around San Jacinto, you also have the Plaza Hotel opened up. You also have the Hotel Paso Del Norte within eyesight of it,” said Gudenrath.
Guedenrath added that employers are starting to come back to downtown and that the West Star building being built near I-10 will soon be opening.
Also, starting in May, the El Paso Chihuahuas will start their baseball season. This will be the first time the baseball team is playing in downtown El Paso since 2019. Chihuahuas officials told KTSM they will be welcoming fans back, but it is still undecided at what capacity.
“With the return of the Chihuahuas, the Locomotive, definitely going to bring back some of that life and customer base to downtown and we do expect those people coming down for those games to shop and dine and visit the local establishments as well,” said Gudenrath.
On Mills in Downtown near San Jacinto a restaurant called Drac’s Cheese Steaks sits, next to a vacant shop. Drac’s closed down at one point during the pandemic but opened back up. Employees say business has been fluctuating and they hope sporting events will help.
“When it was open back then in like 2019 people would come because of the sports and the games that they would have. So hopefully if they reopen it will continue to rise little by little,” said Eduardo Andrade an employee at Drac’s Cheese Steaks in Downtown.
KTSM asked the Downtown Management District if there were enough restaurants and shops left downtown to handle the business from sports games. Gudenrath says there will be a greater demand than there has been over the past year, but he expects businesses to start coming back once there’s more activity happening.
“We need to match that demand with supply, and the supply will come not only from the businesses that were able to weather the storm, but also, I expect to see additional investments in new businesses that we’re planning pre-pandemic,” said Gudenrath.