Maybe it’s just a matter of the new things replacing the old.
That, area restaurant owners say, could explain why a number of mainstays of the downtown St. Louis dining scene are throwing in the towel.
Among recent and surprising casualties are Harry’s Restaurant & Bar and Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood, two longtime downtown establishments.
Harry’s, at 2144 Market Street, and Shannon’s, at 620 Market, plan to close at the end of the month. Harry’s and Shannon’s have been around for about two and three decades, respectively.
Others that have closed in recent months include The Dubliner, at 1025 Washington Avenue, which ended a nine-year run in November; Prime 1000, at 1000 Washington; and Joe Buck’s, at 1000 Clark Avenue.
When Harry’s announced its demise this week, co-owner Tim Pieri pointed the finger at a high-profile competitor, just a few blocks east.
Pieri said Ballpark Village, the entertainment complex developed by Baltimore-based Cordish Co. for the Cardinals, sapped his restaurant of 70 percent of its business and “was the nail in the coffin.”
But other restaurateurs and downtown business people aren’t so sure.
Dan Kopman, co-founder of Schlafly Beer, lamented on Tuesday the imminent losses of Harry’s and Shannon’s.
“It’s sad to lose these sorts of institutions,” said Kopman, who helped start the Schlafly Tap Room downtown in 1991.
But he reserved judgment on the Ballpark Village effect.
St. Louis has “an unbelievable assortment” of dining and entertainment choices across the area, and attributing a business closure to a single circumstance is difficult, he said.
“It’s easy to jump to conclusions,” Kopman added.
He noted that as some long-established downtown places closed, new places opened.
One chef and restaurateur willing to venture downtown is Gerard Craft, whose fast-casual concept Porano Pasta is set to open Tuesday at 634 Washington.
Craft said downtown’s challenges were what drew him there.
“There is this fear, I think, of going downtown,” he said. “The more people told me not to go downtown, I really, really wanted to go downtown. It’s the heart of the city. If we don’t put some energy into it and make something happen, (nothing will).”
Craft said Ballpark Village wasn’t a major concern as he readied Porano Pasta’s debut.
“There are always going to be concerns,” he said. “Those are good. They give you something to fight for.”
Tony Lombardo, a partner in three downtown restaurants, said Ballpark Village was not the bogeyman as some portrayed it. He said it hurt nearby “beer bars” but had helped his upscale restaurants — Carmine’s, at 20 South Fourth Street, and Lombardo’s Trattoria, at 201 South 20th Street.
Lombardo said some customers came downtown to dine at his restaurants, then went to Ballpark Village for entertainment. He said his third downtown eatery, Angelo’s Taverna, at 316 Market, also did well even though its casual dining competed with Ballpark Village.
Jim Watry, Ballpark Village’s chief operations officer, did not return a call seeking comment.
Overall, St. Louis’ restaurant and bar market appears to be growing. For the entire city, food and drink sales at eating and bar establishments — which include fast-food chains — rose 4.5 percent in first nine months of 2015, according to data from the Missouri Department of Revenue.
Data on food and drink sales downtown alone were not available.
Downtown’s problem may be that the growth is happening in the city’s central corridor from the Gateway Arch westward, Kopman said.
Within that corridor lies the Central West End and the Grove entertainment district along Manchester Avenue.
Department of Revenue figures show sales in the Central West End Business Community Improvement District have increased several years in a row. Sales also are rising in the Grove.
The data for business districts include sales from all businesses, not just food and drinking establishments. The department doesn’t publish business district figures that are broken down by the type of establishment.
Brooks Goedeker, executive director of Park Central Development, the area’s community development corporation, said the Grove succeeded by evolving.
“We’re always looking for the next small win we can have,” said Goedeker, whose organization administers the Grove’s community improvement district. “We tell ourselves we’re never stopping. We’re always trying to improve it.”
Coming soon will be a series of lights strung above Manchester. Goedeker said plastic cylinders illuminated from within by color-changing LED lights would begin to go up in February. Money from Grove businesses and sales tax income from the community improvement district will pay for the $350,000 project, he said.
Goedeker said he rooted for downtown to thrive.
“We believe when downtown does well, we also do well,” he said. “It’s not a competition. We definitely need a vibrant and productive downtown.”
Shannon, the longtime Cardinals player and broadcaster, announced Saturday that his restaurant would close. He said having the business for decades had been “a celebration.”
“It was everything that I wanted it to be, a place that people could enjoy before and after the games,” Shannon told the Post-Dispatch in a Sunday story.
Kopman praised Shannon’s for improving downtown, adding he remains “very positive” about the area’s future. Kopman added: “We need to be believers. We need to believe we can overcome whatever issues that are seemingly in the way.”
Ian Froeb and Walker Moskop of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.