'Please stop by:' Coronavirus fears fuel Friday night downturn in Raleigh nightlife

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Downtown Raleigh restaurant and bar owners said the coronavirus-fueled slowdown in business has been building all week, but Friday night was going to be the true test. This is a huge night for going out for a meal or drinks. And it was decidedly less so because of the pandemic.

On Fayetteville Street, the Friday night dinner crowd at Sono Sushi was a shell of its normal self.


When we asked Sono General Manager Miki Nishao if the nearly empty dining area was typical, "Absolutely not!" she said.

But with coronavirus concerns scaring away business, most of the tables were empty. And Nishao told many workers to stay home.

"Friday night, it's usually packed. I would have double the staff I have right now," she said. "This is bizarre."

Call it a casualty of the growing anxiety over COVID-19. On Glenwood South, Friday night, the city's entertainment district was busy -- but nothing like normal.

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Casey Markham and his date gladly reaped the benefits of less competition for a table at some of the city's dining hot spots. "Our restaurant waiter actually said something that they normally have a line outside and today they didn't."

At Tin Roof, the live music was still a go and date night was still on for this foursome; with just measured concern about social distancing to avoid the virus.

"We brought hand sanitizer and we'll wash our hands," said Camille Parrish-Wraplee.

Tiffaniey Pollay added, "(Coronavirus) was on our minds but we're still gonna go out and have fun."

Back at the bar at Sono, Dora White wasn't letting anything get in the way of a relaxing cocktail. She's a healthcare worker -- who spent this week easing patient anxiety with science. But, even she was shocked by the impact those anxieties were having on business.

"It does surprise me. I think we're just probably in a state of shock, in a state of worry and concern," White said.

Nishao pleading to the public, "I know everybody is scared. But please stop by."

It's not just weekend business taking a hit. A lot of these downtown restaurants count on the weekday lunch crowd; but with more companies telling staff to work from home to contain the outbreak, that lunch business is slowing down too. And there's still no telling when we will return to normal.
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