Downtown Dubuque starts seeing business comeback, but still months away from full return to normal

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) – For Caroline’s Restaurant, located inside the Hotel Julien, to stay afloat once the pandemic hit, staff had to get creative and resourceful.

“We went to a to-go service and room service for dining for the hotel guests,” Dwight Hopfauf, the manager of the hotel, said. “Started selling packages that would include massage and a voucher for the restaurant, so we always tried to sell a room night with some other components that brought people into the restaurant.”

But still, that was not even close to offsetting the total amount of sales they lost.

“We are very much a group leisure travel hotel, so the room nights that come into the hotel will transcend to revenue spent in the bar and the restaurant and the spa,” Hopfauf said. “Because it was so little travel there was no way to offset the revenue loss.”

Now, as more people get their COVID-19 vaccine, they are starting to see some sense of normalcy.

“Its normalcy that our guests that have been with us before are really starting to come back,” Hopfauf said. “That is really nice and special for the staff.”

According to Dan LoBianco, with Dubuque Main Street, downtown restaurants and bars benefit from workers over the lunch hour, which is something the pandemic put a big halt to.

“All of a sudden we had, with a few hundred of employees all of a sudden not dining at lunch downtown or not being at lunch downtown, it had to be a destination just to get to dining,” LoBianco said.

And even though more people are now working in person in the downtown area, LoBianco said a total return to normal is still months away.

“The larger ones are anticipating around July 1 to come back fully,” LoBianco said. “You can have a pretty good business working from home, but we want to encourage employers to bring the people back that makes for the vibrant community.”

LoBianco said they are expecting a strong comeback in the summer. However, he said some pandemic traditions are here to stay.

“The community is not going to emerge from this trend even when we are fully vaccinated without the desire to have just a little more elbow room,” LoBianco said. “Outdoor spaces are becoming more important now with the nice weather. That is going to come back and its going to stay and people are going to want to dine outside longer into the year, so space heaters and things like that are going to be very important.”

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