Downtown Rochester businesses struggle to regain customers

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(ABC 6 News) – Business owners in downtown Rochester say they saw some much-needed customers last weekend with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, but they are still struggling to bounce back from pandemic shutdowns and the switch to telework.

Tangerine Gifts has been a downtown Rochester staple for more than 20 years. Owner Joan Blakley-McCoy is still trying to figure out how to get more people in the doors.

“It’s very very slow,” she commented.

She is not the only one. Businesses like Hefe Rojo, Newts Downtown, and Quiznos completely shuttered within the last few months.

Patrick Seeb, Executive Director of Destination Medical Center, says the city has to reimagine downtown.

“What we relied on in the past is changing, and we have a new market to start to serve,” Seeb said.

Around 2,900 Mayo Clinic staff that used to work in-person downtown now work remotely, according to a Mayo Clinic spokesperson.

A number of some businesses say is detrimental.

“I never thought it would be like this but it is. Pretty soon you’re working for the landlord, not yourself anymore. And I can see that’s happened a lot with a lot of businesses here,” Blakley-McCoy said.

But Mayo Clinic says they’re still expanding downtown. An expanded proton beam facility opening in 2026 will bring 117 new employees to the area. The medical giant also hopes to have Anna Maria and Stephen Kellen building up and running by 2023, which would be a home-base for 500 to 700 new and existing employees.

DMC and local businesses want to expand the number of people living in downtown so that they can rely on neighbors instead of employees.

“Downtown has to become something special — that people will choose to come downtown,” Seeb said.