ST. LOUIS — A collapse in labor negotiations delaying the start of the baseball season could be a major headache for companies here.
Dozens of them rely on the Cardinals to bring customers downtown to eat, drink, sleep — and spend — from April through October.
“St. Louis needs the Cardinals to play baseball,” said Ryan Loeffler, owner of Big Daddy’s Bar in Soulard, which operates shuttles to and from games. “It hurts everyone if they don’t.”
But as of Monday night, MLB players and owners had yet to reach an agreement on how to share the game’s wealth for upcoming seasons, though the league said it needed an agreement that day to start the regular season on time . Questions about minimum wages for players, luxury taxes for owners, and the expansion of the playoffs all went unanswered. Both sides appeared poised to negotiate late into the night at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., where the Cardinals are holding spring training.
All St. Louis businesses could do was hope. This opening day is particularly important. More than a few bars and restaurants here have been closed in the wake of the pandemic, and many of the survivors are still working to return to full strength.
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Gary Pohrer, co-owner of St. Louis Parking, which manages several parking lots within walking distance of Busch Stadium, said his company is still feeling the impact of office workers giving up commuting for Zoom. Hotel stays in the region have rebounded, said Brian Hall, chief marketing officer at the region’s tourism bureau. But they are still 10-20% cheaper than 2019.
“After two years of COVID, we need to get back to normal,” said Bob O’Loughlin, whose company owns the St. Louis Hilton in the Ballpark and its Three Sixty Rooftop Bar, among others.
The Cost of a Bad Result for Baseball? “You’re talking millions of dollars lost,” O’Loughlin said.
Dave Bailey, owner of Baileys’ Range on Olive Street and The Bridge bar on Locust Street, said it would be a big deal for anything downtown.
In addition to fans, he said, restaurants also serve players, their families and all stadium workers.
“It’s a lot of different types of people,” he said, “not just the ticket holders.”
And of course they are a big deal too.
Loeffler said he can count on dozens of them to stop by at almost every game at Big Daddy’s. You pay for something to eat or drink and get a free ride to Busch Stadium and back. When the Cubs are in town he can make 300 go back and forth.
“Without this shuttle, I don’t know if we are what we are,” he said. He doesn’t want to find out either.
Losing a month could cost him $50,000 to $100,000, enough to reconsider the deal. At the very least, he would have to cut staff, which would make it even more difficult to keep chefs and bartenders from fleeing the service industry for Amazon and Co.
“We’ll have to come up with some gimmicks to get butts in seats,” he said. “Maybe a bbq contest or a ladies’ night.”
Not everyone is so concerned.
Tom Schmidt, who opened a Salt + Smoke grill restaurant across from the stadium last spring, said he thinks it’s going to be a good year with or without baseball. Off-season traffic in Ballpark Village, buoyed by the return of festivals, concerts and conventions, has exceeded expectations, he said.
But Schmidt said that as a baseball fan and businessman, he’s hard on a deal. Cardinals Baseball likely adds another 25% to its business for the year, he said.
“Baseball just brings so much to the table,” he said.
Pohrer, the manager of the parking garage, agreed. It also goes beyond business, he said.
“With everything that’s going on in the world, we want to enjoy baseball,” he said. “We need it.”