Research Portal

November 16, 2023

Economic resilience during COVID-19: the case of food retail businesses in Seattle, Washington

Sun, F., Whittington, J., Ning, S., Proksch, G., Shen, Q., & Dermisi, S. (2023). Economic resilience during COVID-19: the case of food retail businesses in Seattle, Washington. Frontiers in Built Environment, 9.

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The first year of COVID-19 tested the economic resilience of cities, calling into question the viability of density and the essential nature of certain types of services. This study examines built environment and socio-economic factors associated with the closure of customer-facing food businesses across urban areas of Seattle, Washington. The study covers 16 neighborhoods (44 census block groups), with two field audits of businesses included in cross-sectional studies conducted during the peak periods of the pandemic in 2020. Variables describing businesses and their built environments were selected and classified using regression tree methods, with relationships to business continuity estimated in a binomial regression model, using business type and neighborhood socio-demographic characteristics as controlled covariates. Results show that the economic impact of the pandemic was not evenly distributed across the built environment. Compared to grocery stores, the odds of a restaurant staying open during May and June were 24%, only improving 10% by the end of 2020. Density played a role in business closure, though this role differed over time. In May and June, food retail businesses were 82% less likely to remain open if located within a quarter-mile radius of the office-rich areas of the city, where pre-pandemic job density was greater than 95 per acre. In November and December, food retail businesses were 66% less likely to remain open if located in areas of residential density greater than 23.6 persons per acre. In contrast, median household income and percentage of non-Asian persons of color were positively and significantly associated with business continuity. Altogether, these findings provide more detailed and accurate profiles of food retail businesses and a more complete impression of the spatial heterogeneity of urban economic resilience during the pandemic, with implications for future urban planning and real estate development in the post-pandemic era.