From inside The Cookie Firm, they watched them go.

An exodus of Nelnet workers fleeing the pandemic, their work lives in cardboard containers. Some toted flat-screen screens of their arms. Some pushed workplace chairs stacked with CPUs and provides down the twelfth Road sidewalk.

One after one other, all that mid-March afternoon.

“It was surreal,” Cookie Firm supervisor Hans Wanamaker mentioned. “It was loopy. And who is aware of in the event that they’re ever coming again.”

It’s been seven months since hundreds of downtown workplace staff headed residence. And Lincoln nonetheless doesn’t know what downtown will appear like subsequent month, or subsequent 12 months.

That was an eerie day, Wanamaker mentioned. Certainly one of many to come back. Downtown closed down, seemingly in a single day. College students disappeared. Bars and eating places locked up, not understanding when, or even when, they’d reopen. Parking ramps emptied.



Downtown ghost town, Cornhusker Marriott

When the Cornhusker Marriott closed in March, it illuminated a coronary heart that glowed above downtown for months.




Earlier than the Cornhusker Marriott closed, the manager housekeeper traveled from ground to ground and room to room, closing drapes and turning off lights. However she left 18 on, illuminating a coronary heart that shone above an in any other case darkish downtown for months, like a 10-story beacon of hope.

The lodge reopened in August to a modified panorama. Some downtown shops, bars and eating places had reopened, however with rewritten enterprise plans. College students have been scheduled to return.

However the pandemic — and its restrictions — had already taken a toll.

The Journal Star got down to describe the injury to the guts of the town. We checked out apparent measurements: The town’s parking meters, for instance, collected lower than half the cash from March to October this 12 months than they did throughout the identical time final 12 months, and its enforcement officers wrote a good smaller proportion of parking tickets.

We checked out not-so-obvious numbers: The Downtown Lincoln Affiliation has gone from emptying dumpsters thrice per week in the course of the pandemic to seven occasions per week extra lately.And the town’s rental bikes took 15,000 fewer journeys.

However we additionally talked to dozens of people that dwell, work or depend upon downtown for his or her livelihoods.



Parking revenue during COVID-19

That is what they informed us:

A well-recognized face appeared on the counter of Danny’s Downtown Deli lately, a daily from one of many places of work upstairs within the Terminal Constructing at tenth and O.

Dan Patrick was completely satisfied to make her a tuna Dinky, happier to have her again.

“There are loads of faces I haven’t seen shortly, so it was good to see hers,” he mentioned.

Patrick has been promoting sandwiches since 2001, the final 16 years from the Terminal’s floor ground. However when his loyal prospects upstairs and in close by buildings began working and consuming at residence, his receipts dropped by as much as 70%.

“The start of the pandemic — March, April, Might — was actually, actually troublesome. We misplaced a major quantity of enterprise.”

However he and his two workers by no means closed. Danny’s obtained Paycheck Safety Program funds, Patrick dipped into financial savings — and the enterprise benefited from serendipity and generosity.

First, it discovered new prospects within the staff constructing the Vacation Inn Categorical subsequent door, and within the state Labor Division workers who remained working within the constructing.

After which the massive orders got here. A person ordered greater than 100 sandwiches for Matt Talbot Kitchen. A lady fed Lincoln police sooner or later, state troopers the following.

That helped maintain Danny’s till extra downtown staff returned. He figures he’s again to 85% of his regular enterprise.

“There’s no place like Nebraska,” he mentioned. “The generosity of the those that I’ve labored with is phenomenal.”

Kevin Duffy and his enterprise companion at Barry’s Bar and Grill speak on a regular basis.

“I believe we’re going to remain closed till January,” Duffy mentioned. “However every part I’m saying is topic to vary.”

Barry’s, with its rooftop deck, has remained darkish since mid-March.

“We run numbers and we don’t suppose it may be worthwhile primarily based on occupancy allowances and social distancing.” Even with the massive, open air deck, they fear about notion on social media. “{A photograph} taken at a foul angle that makes it appear like you’re packed.”

In order that they wait. They’ll afford to. “However I really feel so unhealthy for Mother and Pops; they’ve their life financial savings invested.”

On P Road, Jersey Mike’s closed briefly however determined to make it everlasting, mentioned proprietor Randy Lewis.

“The best way college ended had a huge effect on us,” he mentioned. “We at all times catered to the athletes and did enormous catering jobs for lots of visiting sports activities groups and UNL sports activities camps, and people didn’t occur.”

Lewis owns three Jersey Mike’s in Lincoln. Gross sales at his sandwich store at 51st and O have picked up, however his hire downtown is excessive, and pre-pandemic parking was exhausting to come back by, factoring into his determination to not reopen.

He didn’t rule out a return to downtown down the highway.

“It’s an excellent downtown,” Lewis mentioned. “It can come again.”



Ghost Town-Judtih Andre, 10.21

“Building remains to be happening, however I miss the vitality folks deliver to downtown.” — Judith Andre, downtown resident, together with her corgi, Murray, within the Mission Arts Constructing, 124 S. Ninth St.




Judith Andre lives in a second-floor house of the Mission Arts Constructing on the south aspect of downtown.

She’s owned — and lived in — the constructing for 26 years.

“It’s a lot quieter for certain,” she mentioned. “My constructing has many fewer folks in it.”

The primary ground artists’ co-op, Gallery 9, is simply open two days per week after being closed for the primary few months of the pandemic. Artwork openings are fewer and smaller.

“The artists are hanging in there,” she mentioned. “Gross sales have come up the final couple of months.”

Andre is a downtown observer on day by day walks with Murray, her 13-year-old corgi.

“Building remains to be happening,” she mentioned. “However I miss the vitality folks deliver to downtown.”



Downtown ghost town, Husker Headquarters

“Some folks have been OK with coming again into shops however lots of people bought spooked; they didn’t wish to be out in public.” — Blaine Braziel, advertising and marketing director, Husker Headquarters, 1120 P St.




A one-two punch almost knocked out Husker Headquarters.

Earlier than the virus, the Lincoln-based enterprise had 19 workers and three shops. Now it’s down to 3 workers and two shops, mentioned advertising and marketing supervisor Blaine Braziel. Total, they’ve misplaced about 90% of their enterprise.

It began with downtown’s empty summer time sidewalks. “This retailer depends loads on foot visitors and prospects simply strolling by and noticing us,” he mentioned from its P Road location.

And it continued with the on-off-on-again bulletins in regards to the soccer season, and the information that followers wouldn’t be allowed at Memorial Stadium. No actual recreation day, no actual enterprise increase.

“That usually is our strongest day, with 90,000 folks on the town and on the recreation. We have been lucky. This location, I virtually wish to name it a vacation spot for followers.”

They completely closed their Gateway retailer, offered a whole lot of masks after they reopened their different places in June and tried to do extra enterprise on-line. However prospects have at all times appreciated their brick-and-mortar shops, having the ability to really feel cloth and check out attire on, he mentioned.

He desires to see them again on the sidewalks.

“Some folks have been OK with coming again into shops however lots of people bought spooked; they didn’t wish to be out in public.”

Dean Settle lives in College Towers above the Rococo Theatre. He’s a couple of blocks away from his enterprise, Metro Gallery on N Road, which has been hit each by the pandemic and building of a parking storage.

Settle started on-line artwork auctions this summer time and added artwork restoration to his marketing strategy. “We’re above the waterline.”

He and his partner have continued their date night time custom.

“We’ll often go to a restaurant. Typically, we’re the one folks there.”

Roy Hereth remains to be washing home windows downtown, however not as many as seven months in the past.

“We’re doing half of what we usually would have,” the proprietor of Roy’s Window Service mentioned.

Just a few bigger downtown corporations proceed to have their home windows cleaned, whilst their buildings sit empty, however others determined — not less than briefly — to chop again. The Marcus Grand Cinema suspended service for a number of months, however got here again late this summer time, Hereth mentioned.

“The eating places we deal with, we’re nonetheless not again at most of them.”

The pandemic hasn’t been an issue for Cliff’s Smoke Store, which has been promoting extra tobacco than regular.

“The cigar guys and the pipe guys are spiritual,” proprietor Miles Johnston mentioned from the 67-year-old retailer on North twelfth Road. “They’re working at residence, in order that they have extra alternative to smoke.”

However Cliff’s 10% enterprise increase might quickly go up in smoke: Worldwide, factories aren’t functioning usually, ports are restricted and warehouses are emptying, he mentioned.

“For the following six months, we’re not going to get what we ordered, not get what we wish. The provision of product goes to be an issue.”



Downtown - Ryan Donohue, 10.22

“It looks like a break-up, and one you didn’t provoke.” — Ryan Donohue, Nationwide Analysis Company worker working remotely




For 14 years, Ryan Donohue went out to lunch almost on daily basis with three of his Nationwide Analysis Corp. coworkers.

The “Core 4” cycled via Arby’s and Wendy’s and Raisin’ Canes, the Nebraska Union Meals Court docket and Danny’s Downtown Deli and Southwest Pit BBQ, a one-man operation at sixteenth and P.

Once in a while, Donohue would head to The Cookie Firm or over to the Espresso Home for some “non-corporate espresso.”

Now the daddy of 4 works and eats lunch at residence.

“It looks like a breakup, and one you didn’t provoke,” he mentioned. “I really feel fearful and anxious from afar that these companies aren’t doing effectively.”

Donohue misses Lincoln’s vibrant downtown, like a shrunken-down model of Kansas Metropolis or Chicago, he mentioned.

“You might flip any which means from that little intersection and get any sort of delicacies you wished.”

Kiechel Advantageous Artwork used to attract 100s of gallery-goers to its First Friday exhibits, however simply eight confirmed up for this month’s occasion.

“There’s simply not a lot happening within the artwork world,” proprietor Buck Kiechel mentioned. “It’s been gradual. It’s been powerful.”

And it’s been across-the-board. On-line gross sales — the majority of his enterprise — are down. Domestically, he’s promoting possibly 30% of the items he used to. And his company prospects have all however deserted the market.

“The very last thing they’re eager about is shopping for art work for a constructing they’re not occupying.”

He’s been watching downtown via his window close to twelfth and O. The sidewalks emptied these first few months, eating places closed, storefronts eroded.

“It was a ghost city, fully empty.”

Visitors has picked up, nevertheless it’s removed from regular. “The general public who stroll previous my door are homeless folks wandering round downtown, not college students or businesspeople.”

John Doan by no means closed Commerce-A-Tape Comedian Middle, however he survived almost two months with out new books to promote.

A Kapow! — however not an all-out Kaboom! — for the 45-year-old former eight-track retailer on South Ninth.

“We remained open all this time,” he mentioned. “The one factor I did, I modified hours for some time.”

That, and he added curbside supply, mail service and bolstered his on-line gross sales.

After going darkish early on, his publishers and distributors have picked up manufacturing, sending him 40 to 70 titles weekly.

His clientele is loyal, his retailer a vacation spot; he doesn’t depend on strangers strolling by. Nonetheless, a few third of his regulars haven’t returned.



Hitting the brakes, bike ridership during pandemic

Nobody was shopping for gasoline the primary few months of the pandemic, and nobody was strolling into Melichar’s 66 for sweet or cigarettes, both.

“Inside gross sales are nonetheless down 80%, possibly extra,” Jeff Melichar mentioned. “There’s simply no foot visitors.”

Melichar manages the full-service station at Ninth and P began by his grandfather 51 years in the past.

“Oddly sufficient for us, service work remained fairly regular,” he mentioned. “Individuals had stimulus cash, that they had tax cash. They have been considering there are sufficient issues proper now, I don’t want something going unsuitable with my automotive.”

These have been desolate days for downtown, he mentioned. And with out the out-of-town crowds for soccer, the remainder of 2020 doesn’t look nice.

“It’s not been enjoyable. The excellent news is we’ve been in a position to hold on.”

All spring, the flower store on O Road operated with a skeleton crew.

“Early on, it was fairly exhausting on us,” Abloom supervisor Jeanette Steider mentioned. “Mom’s Day was down loads, nevertheless it’s picked up this summer time, much more deliveries and walk-ins are again, in order that’s good.”



Ghost Town-Tavern, 10.21

“We’ll be round for some time, nevertheless it’s not probably the most enjoyable 12 months we’ve had in 10 years within the enterprise.” — Matt Taylor, proprietor, Tavern on the Sq., 816 P St.




Tavern on the Sq.’s regulars — the Glad Hour crowd — stopped coming, as a result of most stopped working downtown. Its companion bar, The Different Room, had relied on enterprise vacationers, however most had stopped touring.

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So proprietor Matt Taylor bought inventive to maintain his workers paid and his companies open.

He put them on wage, even throughout these darkish months after they have been pressured to shut. “I couldn’t make up what they made in suggestions, however I might ensure that their mild payments have been paid.”

And he opened an off-sale retailer, promoting DIY cocktail kits and partnering with different small companies, like Abloom and Wax Buffalo, to incorporate bouquets and candles and cigars.

“It was good. We have been making partnerships alongside the way in which.”

Now reopened, his bars are doing about 50% of regular enterprise, however he worries about winter: The Tavern’s restricted capability is boosted by its huge courtyard, and that’s a seasonal crutch.

Nonetheless, Taylor hasn’t misplaced hope: He simply signed a seven-year lease. “It’s not all gloom and doom. We’ll be round for some time.”

At first of the pandemic, the Lincoln Working Firm prolonged its hours, opening at 8 a.m. as an alternative of 10.

“We figured folks wished out and in early,” mentioned supervisor Ann Ringlein.

They started bicycle supply in March — Ringlein has logged not less than 1,000 miles — and began a web-based retailer for contact-free procuring. The cancellation of the Lincoln Marathon didn’t have an effect on them, she mentioned, with the uptick of exercisers in the course of the pandemic, and veteran runners persevering with with their marathon working plans, regardless of the dearth of an official race.

“Take away April, and we’re even with final 12 months in gross sales.”

The corporate’s plan? “Maintain evolving,” Ringlein mentioned. “Be form to everybody.”

When downtown emptied, The Cookie Firm started promoting cookie dough in tubs for patrons to bake at residence.

“That labored splendidly in April and Might,” Wanamaker mentioned.

However because the pandemic wore on and other people wore out, these gross sales stopped. Stroll-in visitors — an enormous share of their enterprise — is down about 50%.

“It will take a 12 months,” Wanamaker mentioned. “You want folks to come back again to places of work.”

On the similar time gross sales have slowed, the supervisor has been busier than ever, making deliveries and filling shifts for workers on quarantine.

“I do not even bear in mind summer time. I simply labored and tried to maintain it going.”

Bin 105 has been promoting wine within the Haymarket for almost a decade.

“I began proper after the monetary crash, so that is the primary downturn I’ve seen,” mentioned proprietor Steve Blazek.

Workers at close by Hudl aren’t round to cease for a bottle of wine on their means residence. Lodge friends aren’t on the town to select up one for his or her room.

“It’s minimize my enterprise significantly. I’ve simply been interesting to my longtime prospects to come back and store, and doing extra sales-type issues. Simply type of fundamental — work exhausting and see what occurs.”

Jane Stricker is seeing extra our bodies on the streets downtown.

“The final three weeks, it appears to be probably the most energetic downtown has been,” the proprietor of Threads mentioned. “I really feel like individuals are actually attempting to get out and help downtown, in order that makes me hopeful.”

The clothes and shoe retailer is getting ready for the annual Store the Blocks in November — modified, however nonetheless taking place.

“All of us need to be OK that issues are going to be completely different this 12 months and be fluid. Individuals are nonetheless searching for enjoyable issues to do.”

The toughest a part of the pandemic shouldn’t be understanding when it is going to be over, Stricker mentioned.

“It’s like working a marathon that by no means ends.”

Francie & Finch Bookshop proprietor Leslie Huerta used to park on the high of the parking storage on M Road, the one place she might discover a area.

“For some time, I might park wherever I wished to,” she mentioned.

One signal that issues are altering in her neck of downtown: She’s as much as the third ground because the re-opening of the Cornhusker Marriott.

Huerta shortened her hours in the course of the pandemic and is now not internet hosting artist and writer occasions, however the retailer started providing deliveries and extra on-line procuring.

“Enterprise is up a bit bit,” she mentioned. “I’m pinching myself.”

She credited the buy-local group spirit in Lincoln and the enduring lure of studying.

“Books have a extremely robust place in folks’s worlds, particularly now.”

At one level within the pandemic, enterprise was down almost 90% at From Nebraska Reward Store.

“We by no means did shut,” proprietor Barb Ballard mentioned. “We turned the lights on on daily basis; we turned the open signal on.”

They bought a lift from a pair of Nebraska corporations primarily based in Omaha and Aurora who bought present baskets stuffed with snacks and wine for his or her workers working at residence.

“That’s truthfully what stored us afloat,” Ballard mentioned. “That and nice individuals who have been in Nebraska or left Nebraska and nonetheless had Nebraska of their hearts.”

They stopped wine-tasting occasions and began closing at 6 p.m. as an alternative of 9, as a result of there weren’t any enterprise vacationers stopping in.

Gross sales are nonetheless down about 40% to 50%, however the firm solid forward with a deliberate growth into what had been Licorice Worldwide, including a year-round Christmas store and mercantile.

“As a substitute of downsizing, we expanded. We’re simply hoping for one of the best. We pray loads.”

They’ve stayed busy at Sartor Hamann, Lincoln’s longtime jewellery retailer.

“We at all times say, ‘COVID doesn’t cease love,’ mentioned gross sales affiliate Anna Alcalde.

The shop up to date its web site and commenced consulting with prospects wanting customized work over Zoom.

“We tailored,” she mentioned. “That’s what it’s important to do.”



Ghost Town-Novel Idea, 10.21

“I really like my job and I wish to have a bookstore that helps the group.” — Cinnamon Dokken, proprietor, A Novel Thought, 118 N. 14th St.




A Novel Thought proprietor Cinnamon Dokken has stored her used bookstore on 14th Road closed to walk-in visitors because the finish of March.

“We hold our door locked; we take procuring appointments,” Dokken mentioned. “Our gross sales went down, in fact, and I spent all summer time engaged on our new web site.”

The book-filled area makes it exhausting to maintain social distance, she mentioned, and her “lackluster immune system” makes that particularly vital.

When prospects do are available, they’ve their temperatures checked and are given gloves and, in the event that they don’t have one, a masks.

The shop started providing care packages this spring, partnering with 4 women-owned small companies. Twice per week, Dokken delivers pandemic-inspired “e book bundles” to prospects — adults and youngsters — wearing one among her many costumes.

The Guide Fairy, at your service. “I really like my job and I wish to have a bookstore that helps the group,” she mentioned. “It’s gratifying that folks say, ‘I wish to have you ever round.’”

Tsuru is right down to its final worker.

The boutique remained closed all of April and that harm, mentioned Matel Rokke, however the metropolis masks mandate helped deliver prospects again.

“It helped us to not be the unhealthy man.”

Enterprise is down 15% to twenty%, and she or he’s grateful.

“I’m actually pushing to be optimistic. I’ve heard folks say 50%.”

She’s mentioned goodbye to 4 part-time workers, up to date her web site, supplied free supply and shortened her hours.

“When I’ve a break day, I’ll go store downtown,” she mentioned. “I hope Lincoln actually jumps into the vacations procuring native.”

When the pandemic hit and conventions went digital, it hit Ten Thousand Villages exhausting.

“That was undoubtedly a bulk of our buyer base,” mentioned supervisor Jill Christy.

Enterprise is down 50% on the nonprofit that makes a speciality of supporting artisans from across the globe.

“My board insisted on persevering with to pay me my wage,” Christy mentioned. “I believe we’re all simply attempting our greatest to hold on till it’s over, every time that is likely to be.”

SturFast Caribbean & African Grill on O Road is a sister restaurant to Stur22 throughout city.

“We’ve been open two months,” mentioned supervisor Steven Teters. “We’re a bit distinctive that we’re opening in the midst of a pandemic.”

The restaurant stayed busy after early publicity, though it’s since slowed some.

“You may undoubtedly inform it’s not the norm,” Teters mentioned. “There’s not as many businesspeople as I might count on.”

However there are nonetheless hungry folks downtown.

“We’re getting some regulars. We’re getting some building staff in.”

Dish thrived on downtown tradition, however now most of what introduced fantastic eating patrons to eleventh and O is gone.

“Lied nights have been our busiest nights,” mentioned Rachel McGill, who owns and operates Dish together with her spouse, Marypat Heineman. “The Lied Broadway exhibits have been suspended indefinitely.”

They pivoted from carryout to out of doors — including heaters — and socially spaced indoor eating, with a 2% COVID surcharge, to offset sanitation prices and surprising bumps, like closing for a day to scrub after a member examined optimistic.

Income is half what it was final 12 months, McGill mentioned.

“Evenings and weekends are a bit bit extra regular, however nothing near the enterprise we have been doing. Our lunch enterprise is mainly non-existent.”

The couple has advocated for passage of a $120 billion restaurant stabilization fund, designated for small, native, minority and women-owned eating places and eateries making lower than $1 million yearly.

A heart-shaped signal on their home windows makes a plea for that authorities assist: Save Eating places.

Juice Cease has served smoothies downtown since 1998.

“Clearly, we now have by no means seen something like this earlier than,” mentioned proprietor Joel Nowak, who owns shops in Lincoln, Grand Island and Kearney. “The primary couple of months, all of the shops have been hit about the identical; now most of them are again to regular, however downtown is unquestionably not.”

Nowak estimated a 40% drop in enterprise on Q Road with out the morning and lunchtime visitors from Nelnet or NRC. Even with UNL in session, they haven’t seen a lot of a bump.

“It’s loopy, the panorama has modified drastically. You look throughout the road and also you don’t even see college students strolling round.”

Regardless of the misplaced income, he’s stored hours and staffing near regular. “I’m blessed to have a number of places to assist foot the invoice.”



Ghost Town-Chef Nadar, 10.21

“I bear in mind downtown when downtown was lifeless. I hold saying this is a chance to make downtown higher.” — Nader Sepahpur, longtime downtown restaurant proprietor




Nader Sepahpur shut down his ramen restaurant early within the pandemic and returned to Mexican, bringing again Oso Burrito, the eatery that initially occupied the area at 14th and O.

He’s within the technique of returning to ramen for winter and he’s closed Marz Bar fully.

“It’s powerful, you understand,” he mentioned. “If I didn’t personal Yia Yia’s and personal the constructing, I’d be out of enterprise.”

Downtown is lacking its group, he mentioned.

“The artwork group shouldn’t be right here, the music group shouldn’t be right here, the leisure shouldn’t be right here.”

Everyone seems to be struggling, he mentioned, but he’s an optimist.

His father opened Rotisserie at eleventh and O — now Dish — 39 years in the past, when “downtown was lifeless,” mentioned Sepahpur, who started his restaurant profession there. “Yia Yia’s was a beacon when nothing was taking place.”

Sepahpur sees a possibility to make downtown higher when the pandemic is over.

“There are exhausting occasions to maneuver,” he mentioned. “I’ve type of bought to be like a gunslinger, attempting to remain alive. Doing any dance to dodge the bullets.”


Cindy Lange-Kubick: Walking through downtown Lincoln on a beautiful fall day in the time of COVID-19


Pandemic recovery has focused on collaborative, collective work between city, business community


7 months later, many downtown Lincoln employees still working from home


Many downtown projects still moving forward despite pandemic


Lack of conventions slam hotel doors, but leisure travel leading comeback in Lincoln

Pictures of downtown Lincoln in the course of the pandemic:

Attain Cindy Lange-Kubick at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com. Attain Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

Attain Cindy Lange-Kubick at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com. Attain Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

Attain Cindy Lange-Kubick at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com. Attain Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

Attain Cindy Lange-Kubick at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com. Attain Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.



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