PROVIDENCE – Business activity at the landmark Arcade Providence has slowed significantly through the past year, mirroring a depletion in downtown energy.
The pandemic has stripped downtown Providence of students, of office workers, of jurors at the courthouse and tourists.
The Arcade, an elegant and architecturally significant building, opened in 1828 as the first indoor shopping mall in the U.S.
After years of difficulties, it was renovated and reopened in 2014, and was mostly full in the years leading up to the pandemic. Its retail mix turned over several times in the past few years, but most locations were filled quickly, or adjacent business owners expanded into the spaces.
But on a recent afternoon, only two restaurants and a hair salon had doors open for business.
Several retail stores and restaurants have closed. Carmen and Ginger, a boutique, vacated its spot and relocated to Tiverton as the pandemic struck.
New Harvest Coffee Roasters has left its longtime space, as well. The company plans to reopen in Providence at the Farm Fresh Food Hub, according to its website.
On a recent afternoon, only a few people had lunch at Livi’s Pockets, a Mediterranean lunch spot which pre-pandemic routinely had lines of people at lunch.
Building owner Evan Granoff, who is selling the residential and commercial units as condominiums, is hopeful that the coming months will result in more downtown activity.
Granoff described the closed businesses in the Arcade as “hibernating, as opposed to being closed.”
Impulse Salon has remained open through the pandemic. Lovecraft Arts & Sciences, a specialty bookstore, has also remained open although with reduced hours.
Other businesses that remain open include Rogue Island, a restaurant, and Arch Angels, a threading salon, he said.
Granoff is negotiating with a tenant, another coffee shop, to move into the space once occupied by New Harvest Coffee. And Jacky’s Galaxie, a restaurant with several locations, plans to open in the Arcade this summer. Its sign has already been painted.
His interest in selling the building predated the pandemic, he said.
“I’m a developer. We renovated the Turk’s Head building, the Union Trust building. We buy we try to add value and we realize that value by selling the project and doing it again,” he said.
About 70% of the interior square-footage has already been sold to occupying businesses, Granoff said.
An original tenant who didn’t purchase, and who instead moved her business, is Christine Francis, owner of Carmen and Ginger. The vintage boutique was among the original 11 tenants when the Arcade reopened after its renovation in 2014.
Francis said her lease expired at the end of March 2020, and she tried unsuccessfully for the six months prior to that to renegotiate. She moved to Tiverton just as the pandemic began.
“I wasn’t able to work out anything with them by the end of the year,” she said.
Many other business owners who were in the Arcade last year did not want to buy their units, she said. “Small businesses, retail especially, we don’t typically buy, we rent. Because things can change so quickly,” Francis said.
Granoff attributes the vacancies inside the building to exterior forces affecting all of downtown.
Cliff Wood, the executive director of the Providence Foundation, is inclined to agree. He said the picture of the Arcade will be clearer after another year, after people have returned downtown.
Granoff said two industries in particular are critical to the Arcade.
“The two major pistons in the engine of downtown are the courthouse system and the colleges and the universities,” Granoff said. “We have a situation where the courts aren’t doing jury trials. And the college and universities are going to be back in-person learning in the fall.”
The residential conversion kicked off anew this week.
The residential units on the second and third floors, called micro-lofts, are listed by Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty.
Eleven units of 48 were sold last year, when the condominium conversion began.
Mott & Chace agent Cheryl Andreozzi has the listings for the remaining 37 units.
The residential units are listed starting at $135,000, she said, depending on the square-foot size.
Under the condo documents, pets are not allowed. Airbnb and other short-term rentals are allowed.
The property is tax stabilized until 2023. So, for owners, there will be no real estate taxes paid to Providence until that point. However, starting in July, owners will pay a special tax assessment under the homeowner agreement of 35 cents per square foot.
So far, the interest is strong, Andreozzi said. “We went live yesterday, and my phone has not stopped ringing,” she said.
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.