Bexley sign

East Main Street at South Gould Road.

By many accounts, business in Bexley is coming back. After a tumultuous 18 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sources say that businesses in the city are expecting and looking forward to a more traditional second-half of the year and residents appear to be ready as well.

“Most people seem eager to get out and engage with others in a normal type fashion,” said Elaine Pelz, executive director of the Bexley Area Chamber of Commerce. “We are seeing some businesses that are very busy. People are wanting to be out and about.”

To help encourage that resurgence, Pelz said the chamber is “excitedly resuming in-person networking with the return of networking lunches, Women in Business gatherings and after hours events. And we’re planning for a fabulous Taste of Bexley: al fresco on Sept. 23rd at Jeffrey Mansion’s Clifton Meadow.”

According to Richard Barnett, president of RE/MAX Main Street in Bexley, most people are returning to the businesses they had frequented before the pandemic.

“In Bexley, only a small percentage of businesses closed permanently ... but there were a few losses,” he said.

He explained those losses were of businesses that were more direct-to-consumer related, such as nail salons, which couldn’t make a transition online.

Restaurants were also particularly hard hit last year as a May report by Nations’ Restaurant News estimated that more than 10% of the restaurants across the country closed due to COVID-19. However, Bexley fared better than most areas, Barnett said, noting turnover at local restaurants was similar to before the pandemic.

“Almost everyone has reopened,” he said, adding “in fact some were able to take advantage of the situation to do some work and upgrade their facilities.”

Speaking of restaurants, Barnett said he believes at least one pandemic-inspired trend is here to stay.

“You don’t see food (delivery) service going away,” he said. “But I think that’s OK because it’s another revenue stream for restaurants.”

However, while many existing businesses have been reopening to full capacity, Barnett noted the rental and purchase of available vacant commercial spaces has been slow.

“It’s even a little slower than anticipated,” he said. “I think it’s a combination of hesitation around the economy and price.”

Barnett added the price for commercial real estate has remained at pre-pandemic numbers which, in this current environment, “presents a lot of risk for new business.”

“This city is very much a niche market and so we’re going to have niche establishments,” Barnett said. “This has never been a huge market for office space. It will be interesting to see what happens with the office space that is here as the transition of what an ‘office’ is continues post-pandemic.”

There are also other complications remaining from the pandemic. For instance, Pelz said business owners are still trying to navigate doing business in an environment where just over 51% of eligible Franklin County residents are vaccinated.

“Some (business owners) have verbalized a concern regarding the new rules of mask wearing; whether they should have children wear them, whether their employees should wear them,” she said.

But, overall, the outlook is a positive one for the city’s businesses, which is a welcome sight, Barnett said.

“It’s nice to see people on the street, people communicating in person.”

Noell Wolfgram Evans is a freelance writer from Columbus.