CWEnder David Strom on recent closings

Today’s guest post represents the opinions of CWEnder David Strom, who writes for a number of national IT business publications.  To learn more about David, visit his website: strominator.com or follow him on Twitter at @dstrom. Strom has published other guest posts on this blog, examples here, here, here, and here

Disclosure: My husband and I own and manage commercial property in the neighborhood.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Uncategorized

FROM DAVID STROM: January 28, 2020.

This week we heard Bar Louie is gone. Earlier this month 1764 Public House closed its doors. Previously, we lost Culpeper’s, FroYo, Brennan’s, Lewellyn’s, Central Table, Scape, Bissinger’s, Taze, Coffee Cartel and The Tavern, just to name some of the departed restaurants. Culpeper’s, Balaban’s, Coffee Cartel and Duff’s (the previous occupant of The Tavern) account for more than a century of collective business operations in the CWE.

Panera’s on Forest Park is now skipping dinner service. Lewellyn’s, The Tavern and Central Table all closed in late 2018, and while Salt+Smoke is now open in the former Tavern space, the others remain darkened, although new tenants are working on replacing Scape and Taze.

Yes, some of those spaces have turned into retail stores, and good luck and best wishes. But we don’t want to become a daytime-only neighborhood. We need restaurants and nightlife. Having five gyms (not to pick on them, but just to use as an example) within a block of each other isn’t a way to build a vibrant neighborhood.

Many of those restaurants were leasing space from Mac Properties, one of the two major landlords here. No doubt one of the common reasons for these departures is predatory rental prices. We have certainly reached a tipping point, where the only tenants will be chain businesses. And that is sad.

Mac Properties is presently building a new skyscraper next to the Chase hotel, sorry I mean the Royal Sonesta. Good for them for investing in our community. But what would really help their investment is to fill those darkened restaurants and fill them quickly. How about offering discounted rents for pop-up places? Brennan’s tried this a few years ago, and while the experiment didn’t take, perhaps we should give it another go. Keep prices low, get the city to cooperate with issuing temporary licenses, and let’s see if we can bring back some business for the long term.

There is a reason many of us live and work in the CWE. We like our neighborhood, and we like the mix of residential, offices, services, retail and restaurants. You need all of these pieces to contribute to continue make the CWE successful.

nickisbuzz

7 Comments

  1. Reply

    Jen B

    January 28, 2020

    Good piece, David. I write a bit about retail so here’s my two cents, which is probably worth about a dime! Small boutiques that offer products and services unique from Amazon are critical. They drive the traffic in a downtown. You shop, you see a restaurant, you stay or come back to eat. Restaurants do not draw AND too many in an area cannibalize each other. A balance is necessary. Chains are not the answer either because they are constantly measured on foot traffic by the corporate office. Customer service also is more critical than ever with sites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor having the ability to make or break a business. Finally, encouraging shops to stay open later in the summer (even once a week) can help bring in customers who live in town but work out of town.
    Yours isn’t the only downtown suffering, but it does need to form a business retention plan sooner rather than later.

  2. Reply

    david strom

    January 29, 2020

    Jen, you may be right that we had reach saturation. But as I said in my post, I do think any great neighborhood needs a mix and we clearly are moving away from that mix, especially as the rents move higher and the spaces remain darker longer.

  3. Reply

    Robert

    January 29, 2020

    I had retail on Euclid… it failed. My regular customers complained that there was no parking and they didn’t feel safe in the CWE. We moved in and a few people were very excited saying… “we need this here… we are glad you came”, but people vote with their wallets. We closed after being there about a year and our customers still come to us at our St Charles location. They love our products and service and understand why we had to close. Doing business in the City of St Louis is no picnic either… the tax filing burden is inconvenient at best, stifling at worst. People felt free to bust out the windows of the business immediately south of me, put a bullet through the window of the store north, we were robbed and the north neighboring business was robbed at gunpoint. The CWE comes across as cool, hip and trendy and I believed that was enough to support a first class Mom & Pop. I failed to see that there really wasn’t much retail in the area and that I wouldn’t have the support of retail shoppers strolling from shop to shop. I built the most beautiful shop ever (I’ve done 4) and I LOVED being and working in it… but we only ever lost money. The CWE is the PERFECT place for restaurants and bars… but not for a mix in my opinion. I wish it was different. I understand that there is a small amount of retail on the street that works… I just couldn’t do it there the way I can and have in other places.

  4. Reply

    Marian Miller

    January 29, 2020

    This is a good discussion. We know that there are two major owners in the neighborhood that raise the rents annually. I’m a business major. What I was taught in marketing class is that if your spaces are always occupied then you are leaving money on the table. I thought that was cruel and not good for the renters but that’s what I was taught. Perhaps that is the business model the owners are using. Having said that, we have to remember that the owners of Duffs had been there for about 35 years. They had been looking to retire for at least 5 years before they did. 1764 had awful food. I really miss Coffee Cartel. I would see firemen and policemen gathered there at early morning hours. ( I really miss that place). Bar Louie owners filed for chapter 11 a few days ago and closed about a third of its restaurants in several states. I think it is keeping two open in the metro area, etc., etc., Perhaps neighbors should get together and try to buy and then co-0p the buildings. That should keep us busy for awhile.

  5. Reply

    Hank Mishkoff

    January 30, 2020

    Bar Louie is based here in Addison, a suburb of Dallas. They made news here a few days ago because they went into Chapter 11 and closed more than a third of their locations. So don’t take it personally. 🙂

    https://www.dallasnews.com/food/restaurant-news/2020/01/27/addison-based-bar-louie-closes-38-restaurants-as-part-of-bankruptcy-filing/

  6. Reply

    DEBRA HUNTER

    February 1, 2020

    Thank you David for this post. As residents and business owners (PROVISIONS ST LOUIS) in the CWE neighborhood (albeit recent CA transplants) these closings are palpable in both our personal and business conversations- with many opinions abounding!. We chose this neighborhood to live and work because of it’s history, character, charm and blending of established and new businesses. It was very apparent that the CWE was a go to neighborhood – a destination for visitors and locals alike. In the 14 months that we have been here, we have seen the growth, cultivation and curation of other St. Louis neighborhoods- The Grove/ South Grand / Botanical Heights (soon to be – The Foundry). These neighborhoods have a vitality that the CWE seems to have temporarily lost and it is apparent there is heart, soul. creativity & money being invested into these other business districts It is very common for neighborhood business districts to go through evolutions and from what we’ve heard, the CWE has been through many over the years.The recent restaurant / business closings are due to a multitude of reasons – from what we have heard. From corporate restructure to poor management/vision to neighborhood redevelopment and of course landlord greed. In regards to greed, many of the restaurants here are much to large to sustain their business; perhaps these XL footprints were once viable (were these landlord or owner driven?)  when the CWE had little to no competition- that is certainly not the case any longer.  Not only are these spaces too large to sustain at present, they restrict business diversity. One restaurant in particular literally has the footprint of what could be 3 different business – this is particularly troubling when not one of their ‘rooms’ is ever at capacity.   But one thing that also should be considered is apathy, let me explain. … The internet and social media brings every business’ competitor into the consumer’s view, no business nowadays can rest on their laurels of the past (independent or chain) – and they must constantly be seeing themselves as they are perceived by the consumer- both virtually and physically. There are several present CWE restaurants who seem to be suffering from from owner/management apathy in both their physical appearance and menu approach. With rundown landscaping, interior walls with chipped paint and outdated menu offerings, they are like ticking time bombs for closing. They need to look around to the successful restaurants who understand that a quality visual, physical, experiential and dynamic environment is what attracts the consumer/ patron. On the flip side we welcome our new neighbors Kendra Scott, Blue Mercury who bring retail credibility and daytime foot traffic to the neighborhood, shopping consumers & restaurant patrons must go hand in hand to rebuilding our business district. We applaud Salt & Smoke for having the vision to believe in our neighborhood and love the energy they bring. We wonder, why is there little growth in fast casual restaurants? With the hundreds of people who work in or adjacent to the Euclid corridor, it seems this would be a natural (why did Seoul Taco choose The Grove?). The 1764 space is a great location for a takeover by a local & vibrant experience (brewery?) and we are confident that development Mr. Sinquefield is bringing to the Euclid/Maryland corner will be a quality and exciting addition. The CWE is densely populated and growing – with residents and travelers alike, so there is no reason this neighborhood cannot return to a diverse, dynamic, exciting destination – day through night- but it is also going to take vision, cultivation and curation and who is responsible for that? 

  7. Reply

    david strom

    February 2, 2020

    Thanks Debra for your extensive comments, and thanks for enriching our neighborhood with your lovely shop. Hopefully we will continue to attract both visitors and new business owners and new residents in the coming years.

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