COVID-19 Implications on Nightlife

The other week, the ESI principals penned a blog post, Our Love Letter to Cities, which really resonated with us as urban planners who love not only Philadelphia, but the many cities we’ve each visited in our travels. What do we love so much about cities? Partly, it’s the ability to access most of our needs within a 10 minute walk; the potential to bump into an old colleague you haven’t seen in a few months or years while grabbing a bite along Passyunk Avenue; it’s the buffet of what you could do on any given evening or weekend to learn, relax, or celebrate with friends. As economists, we know that nightlife, entertainment, and food services are huge components to our cities’ economies.  As Philadelphians, these are all aspects of why we love where we live.

So, what does this world look like post COVID-19? How will our favorite dive bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, and venues return to normal operations… whenever that is? That’s what gives us pause as we (separately, in self isolation) wonder on the rare outings to grab groceries or some fresh air. These are all relatively small gestures or ways to support our local artists and hospitality workers, businesses, and institutions, and there will a lot of work to do from a policy perspective to recover, but while we have the resources and time, here are some of the things we’ve been doing to support and participate in our local economy.

Since dining out, a widely popular nightlife activity in Philly in particular, is no longer possible, restaurants in Philly are suffering—did you know that in Philadelphia alone, there are 3,000+ restaurants and bars and nearly 40,000 people employees in this industry? The challenges our local industry faces is similar to restaurants in every part of the US: the National Restaurant Association estimated in March that the sales in restaurant industry will decline at least $225 billion during the next three months, with 5 million to 7 million jobs anticipated to be lost in the US. Although many Philly restaurants are closed, there are still many restaurants that have reacted quickly and started adding (or doubling down on) pickup and delivery services.

Many Philly residents are supporting their favorite restaurants by ordering online. You can check out the list of more than 200 Philly spots offering takeout here and even more beyond the city here. Similarly, bars and restaurants are allowed to sell small quantities of alcoholic drinks to go because those are not allowed for consumption on site. Alternatively, you can also support your favorite restaurants by purchasing gift cards (check that out here) or sending tips to your local baristas and bartenders. Some distilleries and breweries (perhaps the ones that haven’t become full-time hand sanitizer manufacturers) around the region are also providing pickup.

We’ve also been seeing our cultural institutions  offering programming that, while no substitute for going in person, will at least provide some entertainment that is educational and supports a local institution’s mission. Many events and festivals are going virtual, giving those at home a chance to enjoy music, performances and other services. For example, the Philadelphia Orchestra has provided free digital access to hundreds of its concert recordings to the public which previously required a donation. Many museums in Philadelphia such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Barnes Foundations provide tons of collections, visual tours, talks, and lessons through their online database. Some theaters in Philadelphia are also providing free digital classes, lectures and performance. For example, EgoPo Classic Theater is offering a new virtual education series, EgoPo CLASSics Online, which consists of a series of lectures, panel discussions and a virtual acting master class. World Cafe Live is streaming a live concert on Facebook on every Friday and the previous performances at World Cafe Life can be accessed through its digital “Bridging the Distance” collection. In NYC, the Come Together Festival at MOMA PS1, which was supposed to be a weekend long festival with live performances and label market, turned to be a daylong streaming festival to celebrate and support local and international music communities. And importantly, many local artists and smaller venues and bars, who make their livelihood from crowds of customers are streaming their programming, performances, and dance parties live for all to see.

What’s funny is, it seems like more people, finding the need to connect or support the arts, have probably tuned in to some of these activities than otherwise would. Sure—part of the reason is likely previous barriers like time, money, or location—but we like to think that we’re seeing is a recognition that these institutions, venues, and establishments are vital elements of our urban community, are important and worth our attention.

By the way, we don’t think any of this replaces the magic that results from showing up in person to live events and programs, the experience of dining out, or the energy that you get from a group fitness class. But in addition to being planners, we are economists as well; and where we choose to spend our money and what it goes to support matters. So if you’re looking for us on a Friday night, we’ll be zooming our friend’s stand-up show, picking up dinner from that new spot in our neighborhood that opened up last month (contactless + wiping down to be safe), shopping from our local businesses, and checking out the latest virtual museum exhibits to hold us over until we can get back there in person.


Gina Lavery is a director at ESI. Her practice areas include economic and fiscal impact assessments, economic development and market studies, as well as transportation. Prior to joining ESI, Gina was a research analyst for Jones Lang LaSalle in Philadelphia where she was responsible for market research and analysis.



Jing Liu is a senior analyst at Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI) where she specializes in spatial analysis, quantitative analysis, and data visualization. She has been involved in a number of transportation projects, real estate market analysis, and economic impact analysis.

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