Downtown Riverside has long been the city’s central hub, providing a space for citizens to enjoy themselves and make memories. However, many small businesses suffered financial losses following the pandemic, while others shut down permanently. As the crowds finally trickle back into the shops, many places they knew and loved to visit have been boarded up or replaced.
Richard Ardito, associate professor of accounting, said the loss of small businesses creates a ripple effect in the community.
“Let’s say you had a little bakery or candy shop that was replaced by a bar,” Ardito said. “That can have a detrimental effect on the community and the type of people who hang around there. You can get a rougher crowd, and it can negatively affect other small businesses nearby.”
Michael Meenan, senior software engineering major, noted that the increasing number of bars and similar establishments have already created a “culture shift.” Meenan said that bars tend to draw the largest crowds instead of the mom-and-pop stores that add a unique flavor to the bustling marketplace.
“Before the pandemic, I remember downtown having a large appeal to families, with places such as the Mission Inn, Game Lab and Food Lab that were always full of life,” Meenan said. “Since the pandemic, I have definitely noticed that downtown Riverside has much more of a nightlife than it used to.”
Several stores fought to survive the financial drought, such as an antique store called Mission Galleria. Throughout the pandemic, the store stayed open despite drastically reducing its hours and struggling to comply with COVID-19 policies.
“I don’t want to say I lost hope,” said Aaron Williams, a keyholder of Mission Galleria. “You always try to think it’ll get better. They kept telling us, ‘In six months, things will be different.’ Eventually, things did change, but for a while, it was getting scary. Businesses were suffering, things weren’t changing and protocols were getting more strict.”
Though the antique shop was able to work with the new government policies, the establishment downstairs, run by the owner of Mission Galleria, struggled because of its inability to provide outdoor seating arrangements. For this reason, restaurants took the biggest hit during the pandemic. As everyone struggled to stay afloat, Williams and his coworkers felt obligated to support the other businesses in their area.
“A lot of the workers had to support Antonious Pizza through COVID,” Williams said. “We would go there on our lunch just to give them business.”
Ardito said that the closing of small businesses is harmful to the community, as he believes they are essential to Riverside’s quality of life.
“A lot of the charm of places like downtown Riverside is those older shops that have been around for a long time, like toy stores, ice cream shops and candy stores. And if you lose that, there’s a lot less reason for people to want to go out there,” Ardito said.
However, Williams has faith that downtown Riverside will come back to life.
“I’d say our business and livelihoods took a hit, for sure,” Williams said. “But lately, it’s been breathing again, and we’re starting to see life and business, and some of these restaurants are doing well. You can’t kill the charm of downtown Riverside. You just can’t.”