Photo: City of Philadelphia
Photo: City of Philadelphia

The State of Philly Businesses

Philadelphia trade has undergone a whirlwind couple of years due to the pandemic, but recovery looks hopeful.


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Philadelphia business owners in 2021 have experienced a drip in staffing, loss of annual income, and inconsistent masking requirements. Even so, many have powered through and are starting to see signs of hope.

Earlier this week, Ready. Set. Philly! celebrated an end to the year-long project on Dec. 14, as their goal aimed to encourage a full return to the workforce and entertainment.

Despite growing traffic to entertainment activities, concern still looms for the number of office vacancies and business’ economic recovery.

Kevin Lessard, director of communications for the City of Philadelphia and the Office of the Mayor, provided some insight as to where Philly businesses now lie as data shows positive upward trends.

In early 2021, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce partnered with PIDC to create the COVID-19 Restaurant and Gym Relief Program (RGRP) to support small businesses that were among the most impacted by pandemic-related restrictions enacted in November 2020, with grants provided by the City General Fund.

Certain businesses that had an annual revenue under $2 million in 2019 were eligible to receive up to $15,000 to prevent closure. The RGRP distributed $12 million to more than 900 small businesses.

The relief fund worked to provide grants to more than half minority-owned businesses in Philadelphia. Among those listed were the GymRatz Athletics fitness center in West Philadelphia, and Yanako, a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, in Manayunk.

RGRP also collected feedback from small businesses allowing them to voice their concerns for financial relief going forward.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ recovery dashboard shows consumer spending at Philly small businesses at 29.7% recovery overall since Jan. 2020. Economic recovery for individual industries, however, can have a higher or lower percentage. 

A study conducted by Center City District (CCD) covered areas of Philadelphia unemployment, office workspace, housing, transportation, and pedestrian traffic in 2021. Each category showed steady improvement, except for wage tax staying below average as a direct result of job losses and work from home accommodations.

“Philadelphia faces major challenges,” the report stated. “The combination of job loss and remote work has caused wage tax collections to remain consistently below 2019 and 2020 levels with Q3 2021 revenues 11% lower than Q3 2019.”

It found that although unemployment claims decreased from this summer, job growth slightly increased as more opportunities became available.

Office workers, in addition, continue to work remotely as the vacancy rate in Center City increased from “17.7% in the second quarter of 2021 to 18.5%.” Some employers have considered safe returns or hybrid implementation, but the uncertainty of COVID keeps those decisions on hold.

For the City of Philadelphia, Lessard says, “approximately 5,035 employees, or nearly 17% of the city's total workforce," worked at least some amount of time from home in November.

Retail and restaurants within the district are operating at full or partial capacity, and only 10% of storefronts had closed permanently due to the pandemic.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at


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