Good business is all about good connections

Shops, concerts and cafes Day X after the corona pandemic: what's next in Jena?

The public discussion has begun: Jena's city council debated the prospects of the city center after the corona pandemic at the initiative of the Greens. As expected, it was a cross-party commitment for the city's tradespeople: many good wishes were formulated, ideas roughly outlined. Sometimes opinions also differed in detail: should there be more or less parking spaces? Free public transport yes or no?

Discussion about the future opens

Old Jena topics also in the pandemic. It became clear how little control the municipality currently has. A left city councilor therefore urged honesty: The federal government and the new Infection Protection Act set the pace for openings.

The guest speech by Michaela Jahn, the head of the inner city club, was impressive. She urged the city council not to get lost in small pieces. Jena has to think big, future-proof and sustainable. Above all, social and cultural interests should not be played off against economic ones. Jahn expects more courage, will and money.

All conceivable funding would have to be called up and a serious inner city advisory board established. A passionate dance to music of the future. But at least the discussion is open for the time after day X.

Only a few dealers at the Click & Meet

Tired shuffling in the present: Only a few retailers in Jena's city center are currently involved in the Click & Meet business: a large fashion house is there, a sports shop and a handful of others. Make an appointment and then go shopping with a few other customers, this is only possible if there is a negative corona rapid test.

But for City Manager Hannes Wolf that's a "mini-step towards the opening. The starting line and then another ten meters," he says. Whether that should sound hopeful and resigned can only be guessed at.

For pessimism, according to the city center association, a large number of Jena's dealers and restaurateurs have accumulated five or six-digit debts as a result of the month-long closure. They can't hold out much longer. Some have already had to close their shops or pubs forever. "If we could open in mid-May, we would have lost 15 percent of the dealers. If it takes even longer, more of course," estimates Wolf. On the other hand, the fact that the small companies are still there, even when closed, makes one more optimistic.

"We can still get through the crisis quite well," continues Wolf, "there is help." Even if you have to add internally that the bridging aids 1-3 were and are a tough and increasingly bureaucratized business. Many entrepreneurs are still waiting today for remaining discounts. Business goes into the future with a mountain of debt. But not only the impending insolvency is a risk.

"The dealers are currently in hibernation. Before they had to close, they had a functioning business model. But will they still have that after the pandemic?"

Hannes Wolf, City Manager Jena

Estimate: some shops are only open for a short time to sell off goods

Does that mean under what circumstances will it be reopened? Do the customers get involved? Have the big online marketplaces already won the game? Wolf is certain that some retailers will only open briefly after the pandemic to sell their goods. And then closes forever.

That creates a downward spiral. The inner city would become unattractive for customers due to the cracked gaps. Many a retailer, who previously thought they were in an attractive shopping environment, will suddenly be surrounded by empty shops. The scope for reopening shops and pubs in Jena's city center clearly depends on incidence values, vaccination levels and test capacities.

And, according to Wolf, this freedom must also be possible without zero covid - with digital contact tracking. Wolf does not believe that retail and gastro are pandemic drivers. This was shown by the largely inconspicuous supermarkets, and the Robert Koch Institute would have confirmed it. The fight against the pandemic is being carried out at the back of the retail trade because there are no sensitive supply chains here. If the economy goes down, it will only be the small fish.

The fact that customers are returning to their inner city after the pandemic is not a sure-fire success. It takes activity and action. Hannes Wolf believes that too. How this can look like is currently being discussed in the city center association and in the New Start of the City working group.

Visiting art and culture as an event

Clear concepts are still missing, but so much: art and music have to go to the city center, your visit should become an event. The street paving festival in summer 2020 could be a model. Art and culture as a vehicle for revitalization? Swen Gottschalk waves it aside. For 15 years he has been selling women's and men's fashion, coffee and cake, refined dishes and, as the icing on the cake, potted plants in his "Del Corazón" on the market. Retail and gastronomy in one: Gottschalk's store acts like a condensation of the problems of Jena's inner-city companies.

Back to the problem: Of course, art and culture are a way of making the city center more attractive again, agrees Gottschalk. This could also be paid for through subsidies. But city marketing is more than just a few individual measures. Jena has to ask itself how it defines itself, what "feeling" it has. It is definitely not a city that people made pilgrimages to to go shopping. And that cannot be forced through musical offers. Rather, long-term solutions are needed to strengthen the creative scene.

Dealers develop creative business models

Gottschalk raves about the office in Erfurt, a former industrial building in which artists and cultural workers as well as agencies are housed. Something similar could also be pulled up in the abandoned clinic premises on Jenaer Bachsstrasse.

Swen Gottschalk has positioned itself broadly with its various ranges. The spring / summer collection hangs untouched on two floors. Actually, it should already be sold. The textile business in particular is treacherous in times of pandemics. But Gottschalk has no doubts: "Otherwise I would have made a decision in December and not accepted the summer goods. What should I do? I can't just surrender to the situation," he explains. It is also good if you remain courageous. For months he and his employees have been developing and packing small boxes of specialties that companies send out to their customers in bulk instead of unusual events.

This means that the "Del Corazón" is not only staying afloat, but also developing a new business model during the crisis that could continue after the lockdown. Gottschalk wants to be prepared by then. Especially for the transition phase: AHA rules, meticulous compliance with all hygiene measures and digital contact tracking.

Jenaer is disciplined in dealing with hygiene rules

The people of Jena and therefore also their traders are aware of the dangers of the pandemic. While in other cities a certain laxity can be observed when wearing a mask in the city center, an uncovered face in Jena's old town ring is a rare sight. This special self-discipline is a good prerequisite for discussing the reopening of the small business with a good feeling. And about the time after that.

But first of all, the incidences must be correct according to the federal step-by-step plan. There is nothing below 100. There is nothing to discuss with the green city mayor Kathleen Lützkendorf. But she also knows about the gloomy prospects for cultural workers, retailers and restaurateurs. For them, she would like to see comprehensive relief from day X: more space for outdoor catering, cultural outdoor events coupled with tests and vaccination passes, the opening of small shops, albeit with a limited number of customers depending on the sales area.

Above all, Lützkendorf wants to facilitate access to the city center. And through free buses and trains. Even if not every day. Above-ground parking areas would be relieved.

"We need a combination of culture, gastronomy and shopping."

Kathleen Lützkendorf, city center mayor

There are also hybrid models, that is, the combination of analog and digital shopping. For example i-bring, the digital marketplace Jena dealer. "Basically, the people, the customers, have it in their own hands how the city center develops," believes the district mayor. That is why Lützkendorf wants to establish formats for citizen participation to revitalize the city center as soon as possible.

Further funding requested from the federal government

In addition to the AG Neustart, who talk to each other in the city administration and the inner city association, other bodies are needed that invite people to think for themselves and to collect ideas. That is what can be done at the local level. In order for the new start to really succeed, however, a new "bazooka" is needed - billion-dollar support from the federal government for the battered municipalities. The community and city federation has been calling for start-up assistance for businesses in the city centers for some time, in particular in order to absorb the oppressive rental costs. Then it could become something.

City manager Hannes Wolf no longer has to worry about it. At least not in Jena. After three years as coordinator of the city center association, he is leaving the city at the end of May in order to "develop personally", as it was called. He doesn't want to say where his path will lead him yet. But what is certain is that similar problems will be encountered in another city. Restart is everywhere.