INDIANAPOLIS — At the start of the pandemic nearly a year ago, there were approximately 250 places in the Mile Square where you could get a drink or a cup of coffee or something to eat.
By the end of 2020, that number was dipping toward 200 as many restaurants shut their doors for good and others closed temporarily to wait out the dining out crisis.
With the anticipated mid-March arrival of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament a bright spot on Indianapolis’ horizon, a campaign is being launched to make sure the lights in the city’s downtown restaurant industry stay turned on during the darkest days of the winter that are still ahead.
“We’re so excited about March Madness and the warm weather that will follow,” said Downtown Indy, Inc. Senior Vice President Bob Schultz, “but, my goodness, between now and then we have a heavy lift to keep these restaurants and retailers open. Folks are closing one after the next during these very dark days of winter and just aren’t out and about.”
Wednesday, a film production crew based out of Lexington, Kentucky, now operating in Indy and working pro bono, began shooting videos for the campaign to be titled “Community Over Competition,” which will have various restauranteurs giving shoutouts to each other and encouraging customers to literally keep downtown cooking.
“Oh, Café Patachou, we also gave a shoutout to Gordon’s Milkshakes, which is on Mass Ave. A few shoutouts here and there, so we gotta show love not only to our competitors but to our community,” said Willie Caple, manager of Tea’s Me, a near north side tea shoppe owned by former Indiana Fever great Tamika Catchings. “In this world we should all show love for each other regardless of what’s going on.”
Derek Crawford of Wrigley Media Group said his association with Tony Ricci of Tony’s Steakhouse led him to volunteer the crew for two-day shoot at 10 Indianapolis restaurants.
“Tony and a lot of the businesses we’re working with today are trying to find that message of ‘We’re back downtown,’ ‘Community over competition,’ and really driving that spirit home,” said Crawford. “We’re really trying to get that mission out to support carryout, takeout, come support your favorite milkshake, your favorite steakhouse, and right on the forefront of March Madness coming to town. The most we can do to support these businesses, the better.”
City leaders anticipate an announcement soon that the Big 10 will move its Men’s Tournament to Indianapolis to be staged in mid-March, which would serve as downtown hospitality industry run up to the NCAA championship games.
“Staggered returns are happening,” said Schultz just days after El Toro reopened its doors at Illinois and Vermont Street following a two-month long sabbatical due to slow sales. “We’re having visitors come back downtown for sports tournaments. We certainly are gearing up for March Madness, but that point in between, we have some heavy lifting to do as a community to hold up these restaurants and retailers who support us when things are good, and we need to support them now to get through these next three weeks of winter.”
Downtown diners are finding deals during the current “Devour Indy” campaign intended to boost the dining out community during typically slow winter months.
The Community over Competition campaign will hit the airwaves in mid-February to encourage diners to eat out and support the local industry in anticipation of the return of visitors in the spring.