HOUSTON - The area of downtown Houston next to the Astros’ home, Minute Maid Park, is usually bustling for regular season home games. But Crawford Street outside the park was eerily still for most of 2020.
Major League Baseball prohibited fans from regular season games as a safety measure before COVID-19 treatments and about a year before most of the country would be eligible for vaccines. Restaurant and hospitality industries felt crushed during the lockdown era of the pandemic.
"The last year and a half has been just terrible for everybody," Bill Floyd, owner of Houston’s Jackson Street Barbecue recalls. "COVID has just crunched the restaurant business. Downtown Houston has just about been vacant in office space."
Jackson Street Barbecue sits in the shadow of Minute Maid Park’s main gates. There’s also a location inside the stadium. The typically busy baseball season was grim during 2020. But now Floyd has reasons to be optimistic.
Jackson Street Barbecue in Houston sits one block from Minute Maid Park. The restaurant has a location inside the stadium.
"It’s a very welcome respite from things going on," Floyd said. "The whole city is behind the Astros."
Luis Galvan, the owner of Irma’s Southwest near Minute Maid Park, said his business has been in Houston for all the Astros’ highs and lows for about 20 years. Recently, there have been more highs than lows.
"It’s huge 2020 was a terrible year for us," he said. "Downtown is coming back and with the Astros playing this year and in the World Series, it’s a big boom for us."
Irma's Southwest has been in downtown Houston for all of the Astros' ups and downs before the World Series. against the Atlanta Braves.
Brian Sciberras, general manager of Westin Houston Downtown, said the hotel has hosted visiting fans from across the country since stadiums lifted restrictions. He said the hospitality industry has seen a boom from what he calls pent-up demand.
"It’s pretty encouraging and the crowds are friendly, not many issues, just ready to enjoy what baseball brings," Scriberras said.
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced an unforeseen crisis for the hospitality industry. Companies struggled to find and hire workers even as more Americans were vaccinated.
Sciberras said Westin employees said the week is planned out days in advance. He said the national labor shortage hasn’t caused catastrophic problems at his hotel so far.
"The Astros have done well so we’ve been able to staff up for it," he said.
This is not Houston’s first rodeo, this is Texas, after all. The Astros last appeared in a World Series in 2019 and 2017 before that. Galvan said the rush and fanfare of the Series is not something you, but it’s always something he looks forward to.
"Every time it’s a learning experience," Galvan said. "We just want to make sure people are happy and safe, make sure they have great food and great service."