St. Louis-area restaurants and bars were ordered Tuesday to close their dining rooms and only provide carry-out service during the coronavirus pandemic.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page joined other regional leaders to make the announcement Tuesday at a joint news conference. The restriction, already being carried out by scores of area restaurants, becomes official at midnight Thursday.
It applies to restaurants in the city and St. Louis County, as well as St. Charles and Franklin counties. Restaurants can serve patrons by delivery, window, walk-up or drive-thru. No date was given for when the provision would be lifted. It does not apply to Jefferson County, which is allowing restaurants to remain open as usual.
Krewson said 88,000 people in the region work in hospitality, including in hotels and restaurants. She urged the federal government to help workers and businesses through an assistance bill.
“We are not closing businesses. We’re just changing the way they do business,” St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said at the conference.
Matt McGuire, owner of Louie in Clayton, agrees with the decision.
“We’ve got to do what we can do, and we should do it,” he said.
The real question, McGuire believes, is how long restaurants can remain closed. He thinks Louie can survive a prolonged closure, but said, “I don’t feel wildly confident about anything right now.”
He also questioned whether it was fair to target restaurants with such a rule.
“It seems mildly perverse that the smallest of the small businesses have to front-run the government and front-run the experts. And then somehow we’re (still) allowing hundreds of thousands of people to fly in the air and exchange this disease we’re trying to knock down,” he said.
Qui Tran, co-owner of Nudo House near Creve Coeur and in the Delmar Loop, said, “I’ve never been scared in my life. I’ve always felt like we can push through, and stuff like that. I’m really (expletive) scared.”
Tran is also not certain a shift to takeout can support the restaurant while the dining room is closed.
“If carry-out’s 20% of my business, and all we do is carry-out, I’ve lost 80% of my revenue,” he said. “How am I going to function? How are we going to pay rent?”
Tran’s prediction for the other side of the closure is dire.
“For the last twenty years, I’ve been on the forefront of helping build this community of restaurants,” he said, “and now when this is all said and done, half of what we’ve built together in St. Louis will no longer exist.”
The restaurant closure announcement preceded St. Louis County’s report Tuesday of a fourth case of COVID-19, confirmed in a person who is 60 to 70 years old.
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, Missouri reported 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including four in St. Louis County, one in St. Louis city, four in the Springfield area, three in the Kansas City area, two in mid-Missouri near Columbia and Jefferson City, and one in Henry County in southwest Missouri.
Question of recovery
Economic experts said the move to close restaurant dining rooms underlines the financial strain that such small businesses face amid social distancing measures to protect public health. To some, the biggest question is not the initial revenue loss, but how long it takes to return to normal.
“The bigger question is how quick the recovery happens,” said Steven Fazzari, a professor of economics and sociology at Washington University. “This is going to run its course. Is it going to take two months, three months, four months?”
The ability of businesses to restart after an extended period of little to no cash flow could help determine the trajectory of the economy at large, said Fazzari. He said he is “guardedly optimistic” in their ability to weather the storm, but added that a recession of some degree was almost inevitable.
Lower-wage workers who fill the restaurant industry — and similar parts of the labor force, such as those in the “gig economy” — will absorb the brunt of economic hardship caused by the coronavirus, said Glenn MacDonald, an economics professor at Washington University.
“Some people will feel this a lot and some people will feel this hardly at all,” said MacDonald. “This is another time that being poor is going to be bad.”
Across the region, residents continued to see a slew of restrictions and closures as officials try to stem the spread of the virus.
Area officials on Sunday banned events and social gatherings of more than 50 people across St. Louis city and county, St. Charles County, St. Clair County and Madison County. The ban was expected to last at least eight weeks, on the recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Page said he signed an executive order on Tuesday requiring social-distancing of 6 feet in places of “public accommodation” and taking steps such as avoiding close face-to-face contact and holding meetings online.
Casinos in Missouri on Tuesday were ordered to close at midnight and remain shut down at least until March 30. Ehlmann said he had been prepared to seek a judge’s order to close the Ameristar casino.
Visitors to St. Louis City Hall had their temperatures taken before being allowed to enter. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher was not allowed inside City Hall or 1520 Market Street, where the city’s municipal court and Department of Health operate.
All bars and restaurants in Illinois are closed through March 30. The number of COVID-19 cases in that state jumped Tuesday to 160 and it had its first death.
“The time for persuasion and public appeals is over,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sunday when he issued the order. “This is not a joke. No one is immune to this.”
Other states to enact restrictions, including forced closures, on bars and restaurants include Michigan, California, Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Ian Froeb of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.