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From PBN: Newly formed Downtown Hospitality Group aims to revive struggling business district

by Nancy Lavin



PROVIDENCE – Amid still-shuttered storefronts and empty sidewalks, a group of business owners is working to revive the struggling downtown district through a newly formed association.


The Downtown Hospitality Group officially kicked off in June, but will hold its first quarterly meeting Monday night, according to Danny Willis, executive director for the group and marketing director for Yoleni’s.


Willis, a New York native who moved to Rhode Island a few years ago, said the idea for an organization to coordinate among and advocate for downtown businesses had long been on his mind, but became even more of a priority in the last few months with the onset of COVID-19.


With offices downtown still largely empty, local restaurants and retailers have struggled to revive their businesses even after state stay-at-home orders were lifted, with several announcing permanent closures. Willis also named an episode of violence and looting early June in which many downtown businesses suffered vandalism and destruction as an additional burden to the already hard-hit downtown. 


“When you back yourself into a corner, you get to this point where you just have to fight back,” Willis said. “We want to have one organized, unified front…to improve the downtown district.”


As of Monday, the group boasted 35 business members, representing a mix of restaurants, retailers and other storefront shops, according to Willis. 


While specific details such as the corporation structure and potential funding sources have not yet been determined, members have already identified three areas in which to focus their efforts: safety, beautification and legislation.


The group has already teamed up with the Providence Downtown Improvement District Members on specific items such as more bike racks and safety monitoring. Several state legislators who represent Providence are also collaborating on potential legislation to funnel more funding to small businesses, Willis said.


The group is sharing updates and information through its Instagram page, @pvd.dhg.


Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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