While businesses in downtown Frederick reported a worse than usual year in 2020, the majority are hopeful about the economy in 2021, according to the results of a survey.
The survey is administered each January to help the Downtown Frederick Partnership assess the current state of the business community. This year, 90 businesses of the 250 invited to participate completed the survey. Of those that responded, 60 percent said their income was “poor” or “fair” this year, compared to only 13 percent in the 2020 survey.
Additionally, 40 percent of businesses said they had been somewhat impacted by the pandemic, with an additional 42 percent citing significant impact.
The survey did, however, highlight a few hopeful aspects. For example, 56 percent of businesses responded that the economic climate looks good for their business this year. And 92 percent of respondents said that downtown Frederick is a good place to do business.
“I’m impressed by that because I think all of us know when it’s really hard, you can kind of get negative,” said Kara Norman, executive director of the partnership. “So it’s really heartening to see that level of positivity within our business community.”
Sixty-nine percent of businesses said they are not looking to add any new positions to their business. However, not as many restaurants responded to the survey this year, so the numbers primarily focus on specialty retailers and companies with lower employment. Norman said restaurants typically have a lower response rate but blames the larger lack of response on the pandemic.
“Quite honestly, we were thrilled that people responded because the pandemic obviously has a big impact on the time available for extra things like filling out surveys,” Norman said.
The partnership uses the responses to plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. The survey also had a write-in section for businesses to share concerns. Some businesses had hoped for lessening of restrictions, which has happened since January. Other concerns, however, are more big-picture than what the partnership can handle.
The top three concerns businesses submitted were: regaining customer base and foot traffic, dealing with the uncertainties of inventory and supply chains, and making sense of the changing restrictions and basic safety for themselves and their employees.
“A lot of it is about helping businesses manage the pandemic, and that’s obviously something we have been doing, and [that] continues to be a focus,” Norman said.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents also noted dissatisfaction with street parking, which the partnership is currently studying with the city through the Streetscape Study. Another 37 percent of respondents were also dissatisfied with the lack of overnight stay options in downtown Frederick. Norman said the partnership is a big advocate for the downtown hotel and conference center project and will continue to be. The survey highlighted some other bright spots, however. Seventy-six percent of downtown Frederick businesses applied for and received the first round of Paycheck Protection Program grants, a much higher portion than that of Maryland businesses as a whole.
Norman was relieved to see that number after putting out a large amount of communication encouraging businesses to apply for the PPP.
“I was hopeful,” Norman said. “Our goal was to have really high participation in that program, so it’s exciting to learn that that turned out to be true and we’re doing significantly better than average.”
The partnership will administer its survey again next year, which will be the 10th time. Until then, Norman said the nonprofit hopes to continue to address issues the businesses are facing and get back to putting on events that help draw crowds downtown.
“I think it’s just important for people to know that it’s been a tough year,” she said, “and every little bit of support to our downtown business community is important and has helped.”