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Gaslamp Businesses Missing Comic-Con, Expanding Outdoor Dining Operations

Comic-Con during 2019 under the Gaslamp sign downtown (left) and people eatin...

Credit: KPBS & Javier Luna/Anonm Studios

Above: Comic-Con during 2019 under the Gaslamp sign downtown (left) and people eating outside along Fifth Ave (right).

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

If not for the pandemic, Comic-Con 2020 would be taking over the Gasla

mp Quarter in San Diego this week — but with COVID-19 showing no signs of slowing down the convention that brings more than 130,000 people to downtown is going virtual this year.

"It’s been a challenging summer for sure," said Michael Trimble, executive director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, which represents more than 400 businesses just blocks away from the convention center.

"Really, it becomes a great economic boom for the Gaslamp Quarter as well as San Diego. And as for tourism, it’s really one of those number one things to get people to San Diego to stay in hotels," Trimble said.

Comic-Con brings in around $150 million to the region and is the largest conference here, according to convention center officials.

"Gaslamp Quarter really relies on the convention center and convention business coming to San Diego," Trimble said. "So really it’s important to get that convention center back open and selling San Diego as a convention destination."

La Puerta restaurant and bar is just a few blocks from the convention center.

"Five years in a row we've set record numbers during Comic-Con — the last five years in a row we've had record months in July," said owner Merritte Powell.

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Powell estimates sales could be down 90% this week compared to a normal July week with Comic-Con in town.

"Not having Comic-Con is not going to make or break us. Obviously it’s usually the best month of the year for us, the best week of the year for us. Right now it would be nice to have it but there's so much going on with the restrictions," Powell said.

Restrictions that seem to change weekly, Powell said, is the hardest part of running a restaurant during the pandemic.

With indoor dining prohibited and no outside patio, La Puerta has had to get creative. With the help of the city of San Diego, Powell has moved tables to the sidewalk and the street — and is hoping customers embrace these new options.

Meanwhile, for about a month restaurants have been allowed to expand onto Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp. During the afternoon and evenings Thursday through Sunday there are partial street closures so eateries can still do some dine-in service.

"So it really has a great ambiance for people to come down to Gaslamp Quarter — not like Comic-Con of course," Trimble said. "We’ll weather the storm and Comic-Con will be back and we’ll be ready to have them when this is all over."

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Matt Hoffman
General Assignment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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