WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The pandemic continues to deal a crippling blow to small businesses in northeastern and central Pennsylvania.

We’ve seen many struggle to stay open, and even more close their doors for good. Five restaurants have closed in downtown Wilkes-Barre since the start of the pandemic. Eyewitness News spoke with officials for answers on why this trend continues to happen

Rush hour, minus the rush of people leaving work. That was the scene around 5 p.m. Tuesday in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

“We are in our 22nd consecutive month of two-thirds of downtown’s office workers being absent from the office,” Diamond City Partnership executive director Larry Newman said.

Newman says before the pandemic hit, there would be more than 11,000 workers in the downtown on an average weekday. Now, with more employees working remotely, he tells us that number dropped to a mere 3,500.

“When you understand those numbers, you see the scale of what our businesses that depended on those people being in downtown have had to endure,” Newman said.

Due to the lack of foot traffic, many restaurants have closed. Christian Switzer, the owner of City Market tells Eyewitness News: “Unfortunately, Public Square in Wilkes-Barre wasn’t working for us anymore with mostly all the commuters now working from home. There was a direct correlation between the pandemic and the drop of business, and I just don’t see a future for us there. We tried to make it work for the past two years, but after six total years downtown, I’m calling it quits.”

Mayor George Brown continues his efforts to breathe new life into the city.

“The main thing here is, we have to make sure that we get past this last part of the COVID situation. Once we do that, get the people back working from the offices, start building the businesses back up. But we as a city are here to support the businesses and the residents. So, we’re that support mechanism that we’re here for anyone that may need our help,” Mayor Brown said.

While the pandemic continues on, the call to support local entrepreneurs is louder than ever.

“These are people who live in our communities, they have invested in our downtowns and in our communities and they need our help,” Newman said.

While many have closed, some new businesses have opened here in downtown Wilkes-Barre. And, City Market has two other locations in the Back Mountain.