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Tucson restaurant owners reflect on businesses they'll miss after pandemic closures

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Lauren Salgado | The Daily Wildcat

Fourth Avenue patrons walking toward the Thornhill Lopez Center, a SAAF place for LGBTQ+, while wearing masks in public on Historic Fourth Avenue in Tucson on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

Tucson is known for its exquisite variety of bars and restaurants, along with its warm and welcoming atmosphere. Yet with months of quarantine, curfews and social distancing mandates, Tucson's vibrant restaurant scene has changed drastically. 

Declining rates of customers and inability to support their businesses during these troubling times gave many locally owned restaurants no choice but to close. 

According to the Arizona Daily Star, over 18 local bars and restaurants have reported to be permanently closed due to the impacts of the pandemic. In addition to this, Monique Vallery, the Creative Director of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association, stated that on just Fourth Avenue alone, five restaurants have permanently closed. 

Members of the Tucson community are devastated to be losing some of their favorite dining locations and of these members, fellow restaurant owners feel especially sorrowful for the closure of these businesses. 

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Jenny Rice, owner of Cafe Passe, expressed how difficult it was to see neighboring small businesses have to close due to repercussions of the pandemic.

“It's terrible. People put their heart and soul into these small businesses and then it's just like, ‘poof,’ it's gone,” Rice said.

Rice herself has suffered through many unexpected hardships throughout the past few months. Following their three month closure, she was forced to shut down their small bar seating area, let go of many employees and reshape their menu options in order to adapt to the Cafes struggles. 

“I don't think people quite understand what all these small businesses go through collectively. We are just a steam engine that keeps going and going. It can be exhausting,” Rice said. 

Rice said she is thankful that with the support of family and the local community her business is able to stay afloat. Although, she is deeply saddened to have seen some of her favorite local restaurants go. 

After previously spending nine years working at Cafe Poca Cosa, Rice said she was heartbroken to hear of its permanent closure. She described the experience of working there as wild and exciting as the servers would come out with chalkboards to inform you of the daily specials because the menu changed each day.

“Tucson really lost a gem with their closure,” Rice said.

Kylie Myers, owner of 4th Avenue Delicatessen, also empathizes for the loss of fellow Fourth Avenue small businesses. 

“It's sad to see any local business go and it’s a small town where everyone knows each other and everyone supports each other, so any time any one is suffering, we all kind of feel it,” Myers said.

As a new business owner, Myers expressed how it's especially difficult to see the closure of locations so close to her. 

“It's very sad and it's hard to watch it happen, especially as an owner. I'm a new owner so it can definitely be scary, especially in the beginning there's a lot of anxiety and worry about what the future is gonna hold. I'm definitely sad to see them go,” Myers said. 

Myers said she is hopeful that the next few months will continue to progress as the incorporation of online delivery apps such as Postmates, Uber Eats and Doordash have helped guide their business in a positive direction. 

Along with this, she said she is confident that with the support of the Tucson community, friends, family, college students and high school kids the avenue will keep busy. 

Douglas Shields, a server at The Drunken Chicken, is also optimistic that sales will continue to progress for small businesses. 

Shields shared that a few months prior they were struggling financially, although, within the past month and a half, sales have been breaking records. Despite the recent momentum in profits, Shield said he is disheartened that other local businesses could not make it through those rocky few months. 

“It is awful. I feel like there should have been more done to help out the smaller businesses. A lot of my favorite places had shut down. I really enjoyed the staff and the environment at these places too,” Shields said. 

Tallboys and Epic Cafe were some of Shields favorite dining establishments along the avenue and he’s going to miss the many dishes they offered. 

“Epic Cafe had great coffee and Tallboys had good potato tacos and a beans and rice bowl,” Shields said. 

The loss of these beloved eateries took a toll on many members of the Tucson community, but with an increase in vaccinations, local restaurant owners are looking forward to safely progressing their services back to previously seen rates. 

“I’d like to say thank you to Tucson and everyone that comes out to support us during the pandemic, and to everyone else best of luck, keep doing what you do and keep your heads up,” Myers said.


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (10/22)
742 5 0.7%
Total (8/2)
42,506 639 1.5%
Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated October 22, 2021