The Fate of STL Businesses
What happens to STL businesses with the added stress of the pandemic?
January 21, 2021
Driving down Forsyth, the right side of the street is dominated by restaurants with bustling outdoor spaces. Parking spots have been transformed into extra seating areas, tables are spaced six feet apart, cars parked outside restaurants for curbside orders.
Just a few months ago, none of these things existed. Parking spots were busily filled with cars, tables often pushed together, customers quickly running into restaurants to retrieve their takeout orders. In these unprecedented times, local businesses had to quickly make adjustments to keep business going while ensuring customer and employee safety.
Clayton business teacher, Justin Hildebrand says, “A lot of times you make decisions, and they’re stopgaps; they’re kind of a way to stop the bleeding […] I think a lot of businesses have done that, and we’ll continue to see that happen especially if we’re still in some type of quarantine situation. I do think the winter months are going to cause some challenges with that. The businesses that were able to adapt back in March and April, have already kind of been through it and they can hopefully transition a lot easier. It’s the businesses that didn’t quite do that right off the bat, they might struggle a bit more.”
The creativity of local businesses will be tested once again with the onset of colder weather, as many will have to shift away from or modify outdoor models.
Brasserie by Niche in the Central West End has already started making changes to adjust for upcoming cold weather. Their most noticeable change is the addition of a heated tent to the patio seating area.
Hostess Mikayla Phillips says, “During the summer, we were doing pretty well because we have so much space on our patio, and we’re still able to seat a ton of guests. During our staff meetings, we would brainstorm ideas of how we could keep some of our patio seating still going. The heated tent came up; we’ve been talking about it for a few years, and we’ve decided to bite the bullet and go for it.”
They’ve also thrown around the idea of purchasing blankets for guests to use while sitting out on the patio. In the meantime, the Brasserie Instagram advises guests “wear a coat or bring a blanket if they plan to sit outside”.
Beyond necessary creativity, Phillips says, “Being together and trying to work on a method to keep the business alive while adapting to the changes has been one of the things that we’ve learned. [..] Holding each other accountable and making sure everyone’s doing alright can be stressful going through everything that’s changed, so we’re just trying to be more of a team.”
Phillips then speaks on the customer response, saying, “I think a lot of people really appreciate the efforts we’re taking. The heated tent is going over awesome. […] All in all, everyone is really happy and receptive of everything that’s going on”.
“We’ve had almost a full house every night, and we appreciate that so much because you never know if people are going to be leery to being in a restaurant that doesn’t feel like what they’ve experienced in the past, but everyone’s been really sweet and happy that we’re open and doing our best.”
Back on Forsyth, if you continue past most of the restaurants, you’ll reach WashU’s West campus parking garage. On the fifth floor of this seemingly mundane parking garage, you’ll find rows of stationary bikes, punching bags and boxing gloves, all next to stations of kettlebells and battle ropes. The scene depicts the new location for local gym, TruFusion.
From June 15, TruFusion has moved a majority of their classes to this open air garage, using different areas of the garage for different classes and installing sanitation stations. However, with the onset of colder weather, this model needed obvious adaptations. TruFusion has coined this process “winterizing”. For them, it mostly consisted of adding outdoor heaters, wind barrier curtains to prevent wind or rain from coming through, and high powered fans that circulate air. Classes have also started shifting back inside, with people 6 feet apart and a plexiglass screen surrounding the sides and front of each person.
On the response of customers, General Manager Bethany Lang says, “Normally for heated fitness, summers are the slowest and least profitable months because it’s hot outside, and people don’t want to go inside to that. But, we kind of flipped that. Outside, we were thriving this summer. Right now with the weather cooling down and being outside, people don’t necessarily want to be out in the cold, so I was a little nervous, but people have been so supportive. […] So many people have told me this is their happy place. They’re like I don’t care if I have to wear socks and snow boots and scarves I’m gonna come.”
With a winterized garage and the support of the community, TruFusion plans on having outdoor classes for the “long haul”. Lang says, “Since there is no vaccine and the cases keep going up, I think this is the new normal. We’ll be adding more indoor classes, but we’re gonna be out here through the winter and continuing outdoor classes all throughout winter and spring.”
Despite all these adaptations, the future of these businesses is still uncertain, depending largely on the consumer response.
Asked to give one piece of advice to consumers, Hildebrand said, “Shop local. […] It’s easier said than done. However, if there are local options that might cost you a little bit more, long term the way that it helps bolster our economy, it’s a small price to pay, literally.
Ultimately, the fate of these businesses falls into consumers’ hands. It’s the working mom that comes to the gym in two layers of socks or the family that chooses to order from a local restaurant that will keep these staples of our community going.