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More people are visiting downtown Pittsburgh, but some businesses say it's not enough

Allyson Ruggieri
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh's Downtown Market Square in 2017. Historically, the city’s Golden Triangle has seen an average of 130,000 people a day.

Activity downtown hasn’t quite returned to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, but according to a new report from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, it has slowly begun to rebound.

Historically, the city’s Golden Triangle has seen an average of 130,000 people a day. In February, nearly 77,000 people visited the area on a given day. That’s the highest it’s been since the pandemic first began and about 55% of February 2019 levels.

Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership president and CEO Jeremy Waldrup said February visitor estimates show a73% recovery level, driven largely by local cultural events and companies’ slow return to the office.

“So, while we’d certainly like it to happen faster, the fact that we have seen significant increases over the last several months is encouraging,” he said, noting that Pittsburgh’s visitor rates are trending alongside similarly-sized cities.

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But some downtown restaurants said the rising numbers aren’t necessarily contributing to steadier business. They’re still dealing with lower customer counts, rising food costs, and other uncertainties two years into the pandemic.

“We’re all over the place,” said Christina Hammerling, who owns the Apollo Café downtown.

Before the pandemic, Mondays were slow and Fridays busy.

“Now we’re seeing people working [from] home Mondays and Fridays, and we have to pack everything in on those three days [in between],” she said.

The changes have made it difficult to properly staff the restaurant.

“Monday we were watching paint dry, today [Wednesday] we got busy,” Hammerling said. “So, I could have used an extra hand today. It’s so hard to gauge.”

The Apollo Café has seen about 75% of its customers return. When companies with offices downtown change their return to office dates, that affects Hammerling’s business plans.

Waldrup estimates downtown has lost 21% of its small businesses over the last two years and said it could take years for the area to rebound fully. When it does, it’ll likely look pretty different.

“Downtown is about 77% dedicated to commercial office,” he said. “Does it need to be moving forward? Should that number trend down to 55%? And what would that do to the real estate market here?”

Many people who return to their downtown offices may be on a hybrid schedule, and some might not return at all.

Both Waldrup and Hammerling said they’re preparing for a future downtown that could have more residential buildings, less office space, and changing needs.

“Downtown has changed forever,” said Hammerling. “We’re just waiting for the rebound and I don’t know what that is even going to look like.”

View the full reporthere.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at