College Hill looks different than it did a year ago. While several small businesses and chains have been forced to close due to a drop in profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, new storefronts, including restaurants such as Tribos Peri Peri and Ayame Hibachi and Sushi, look to fill these vacancies.
In the early stages of the pandemic, most corporate chains on Thayer St. were able to weather the initial drop in sales, while independent shops struggled. Pie in the Sky closed last fall due to the drop in profit associated with the pandemic, and the Army Navy Surplus store also closed its doors after almost 40 years last December.
But Thayer has recently seen some chain locations close as well. Santander Bank has 586 branches nationwide, but shuttered its location on Thayer April 23. Santander’s other Providence location at One Financial Plaza will remain.
“Like many industries, our customers’ preferences and behaviors are shifting, with more customers choosing to bank with us online,” wrote District Executive Ryan Vanasse in an email to The Herald. “In response to these changes, we are consolidating the number of our branches and increasing our investment in digital capabilities, as well as other products and services that are in line with the evolving needs of our customers.”
B.Good, a chain restaurant located at 269 Thayer Street, closed its doors permanently and will be replaced by Ayame Hibachi and Sushi, a Japanese restaurant that has another location in Hoboken, N.J.
With 56 percent of eligible Rhode Islanders having received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Dan McKee increased the allowed capacity for indoor services, which includes restaurants and stores, to 80 percent. The state is set to fully re-open May 28.
Store owners hope that these relaxed regulations will encourage residents to go out to restaurants, attend in-person exercise classes and shop in-person.
“Everyone is cooped up and hasn’t had the chance to go outside, so I think that’s been a huge help for everyone in the restaurant industry,“ said Tanzeel Rehman, owner of Tribos Peri Peri RI at 183 Angell.
Tribos Peri Peri is a health-conscious restaurant with locations in multiple states that serves Portuguese and South African inspired food. A new location will officially open on Angell Street next week.
Rehman said that the restaurant had been in the works for about a year. While the pandemic has created some struggles in regard to staffing, Rehman said he was excited to open and serve University students and College Hill residents.
Corey Thibodeau, owner of Ritual Sweat Society PVD, had to temporarily shut down her yoga studio on Thayer during the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. As students return to Providence and the public health situation improves, she hopes her classes will attract attendees at pre-pandemic levels.
“Now we are definitely seeing traction to get more new students in, especially with people being vaccinated,” Thibodeau said.
The early stages of the pandemic were hard on Thayer Street businesses, especially when Brown students departed campus last year for fully remote learning. Thibodeau estimated that 30 percent of her clients were students.
High rents and steep decreases in profits forced many to fire staff or close entirely. But Ritual Sweat Society PVD was able to reopen for in-person classes last June and has steadily increased its class offerings since then. Thibodeau said that the studio will be increasing its class capacity this Saturday, and that classes will be able to incorporate shared equipment more often.
Thibodeau is hopeful that as more students return to campus, Ritual Sweat Society can increase its business even more.
“The pandemic is hopefully behind us at the studio,” Thibodeau said. “Now we can continue to grow.”
Hawes Fine Foods, a new boutique food store, will open next Wednesday on Hope Street. Owner Kevin Hawes said that the store boasts a selection of gourmet products from around the world. He hopes that the surge in popularity of cooking and baking that developed during the pandemic will encourage people to visit his store.
Hawes’ location on Hope Street was previously occupied by Da Point Barber Shop, which closed last December.
He explained that while opening a store during a pandemic was challenging, it allowed him the time to develop his concept for the store and renovate the space.
“Opening a store during a pandemic is probably like most other things during a pandemic — you don’t really know what to anticipate, but you have to keep moving forward,” Hawes said.
Katy Pickens is the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.