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St. Louis Restaurants And Attractions Hang On Despite The Pandemic

Union Station has experienced a drop in business during the pandemic.
Wayne Pratt / St. Louis Public Radio
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Union Station has experienced a drop in business during the pandemic.

The region’s hospitality industry is still making adjustments to stay open as the pandemic drags on.

Business is down more than 50% in the entire sector, but some operators of hotels and attractions in St. Louis are budgeting to keep the lights on for at least another few months.

“This year’s been really tough,” said Todd Hotaling, Lodging Hospitality Management's vice president of marketing and revenue.

The company owns several properties, including Union Station, the St. Louis Aquarium and the St. Louis Wheel.

“We’ve lost over half of our business,” he added.

Much of that stems from changing traveler habits because of the coronavirus. Business travelers are not meeting as often. And the market for large groups and conventions throughout the year has dried up.

“It’s all gone away,” Hotaling said.

Despite the tough times, he said business for the aquarium and wheel has gone fairly well, but nowhere near the anticipated levels for the first full year of the attractions.

The City Museum in St. Louis also is not immune to the effect COVID-19 is having on businesses. It has reduced hours and shut down some climbing attractions.

“Best way to put how we are doing is surviving and making it through,” said Executive Director Rick Erwin.

Finding ways to adjust has been vital to keeping the doors open.

“We found a way to move all of our pinball machines to a different hall and spread them out and make them socially distanced. You just try to find things to make up for what you've lost,” Erwin said.

He said the museum has not been forced to make staff cuts.

“We added 30 jobs this year that gave 14 people health benefits and stuff that we cover. So staffing wasn't the issue,” Erwin said.

The museum is prepared to keep going, even with no end in sight to the outbreak.

“We've operated a budget for next year that could get us through at the exact same level we are right now. So, another year for sure,” Erwin said.

The rough going in the past few months is not lost on Explore St. Louis President Kitty Ratcliffe.

“It's not been the best of years,” she said.

The tourism organization and operator of America’s Center was preparing for the outbreak after hearing concerns in February from some groups that were booked for the convention center this year.

“And, of course, then the whole world fell apart in the middle of March,” she said.

Some events, such as weddings, have started to bounce back after the rough year. They essentially came to a halt in April and May, but many were rescheduled and took place a few months later.

But not all venues were that fortunate.

“If it's a meeting venue, a conference venue, then they've pretty much been put out of business,” Ratcliffe said.

With the meeting, convection and travel sectors still devastated because of the pandemic, Ratcliffe has a call to action for area residents to help businesses — especially dining options — that rely on such activity.

“Go out and visit the restaurants,” she said.

She also pointed out that people who don’t feel comfortable eating in should do curbside service and carryout because that will keep many St. Louisans in the hospitality industry employed.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Corinne Ruff contributed to the reporting for this article.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

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Wayne Pratt is a veteran journalist who has made stops at radio stations, wire services and websites throughout North America. He comes to St. Louis Public Radio from Indianapolis, where he was assistant managing editor at Inside Indiana Business. Wayne also launched a local news operation at NPR member station WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana, and spent time as a correspondent for a network of more than 800 stations. His career has included positions in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Toronto, Ontario and Phoenix, Arizona. Wayne grew up near Ottawa, Ontario and moved to the United States in the mid-90s on a dare. Soon after, he met his wife and has been in the U.S. ever since.