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Businesses clear decks for Monday’s partial opening – or not

ST. LOUIS – For the first time since March, a limited number of customers of Chris’ Pancake & Dining soon can feast on Dogtown Skillets and Chris’ Grilled Cheese in the restaurant’s dining room.

Starting Monday, the restaurant at 5980 Southwest Ave. and other businesses around the city  will be able to “safely and responsibly begin to reopen,” according to the city’s website.

State guidelines for a first phase of a return to normal call for people representing only 25 percent of capacity to occupy buildings of 10,000 square feet or less. People representing only 10 percent of capacity can occupy buildings of 10,000 square feet or more.

An order by city Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols calling for the first phase of reopening the city calls for keeping six feet between employees and customers. Businesses should consider installing physical barriers and tape between customers and employees, he recommends.

The guidelines emphasize the importance of face masks and gloves for employees and volunteers, disinfection, hand washing and screening of employees.

The requirements are tough. But for Chris’ Pancakes & Dining and its sister downtown restaurant, Chris’ at the Docket at 100 N. Tucker Blvd., reopening the building could bring in more business than when only takeout and delivery were allowed.

“Through the process, we’ve made the best of it,” said Chris Saracino, who owns the two restaurants. “We’ve been doing about 20 to 25 percent of our normal business.”

Whereas the capacity of the restaurant on Southwest is normally at least 200 people, it will be about 90 during this phase. There will be barriers between booths and continuous disinfecting and cleaning.

The Southwest outlet will have a full menu; the one downtown will have a limited menu and hours. Saracino said he was confident he’d be able to meet the guidelines.

While Saracino is anxious to open again, Martin Casas is less serious about doing that at his store, Apotheosis Comics & Lounge at 3206 S. Grand Blvd.  

The store, which sells comics, shirts, gear, drinks and other items, has put a notice on its website that it won’t reopen the store Monday to customers.

“In fact, we’re not going to open the store until our region sees a steady decline in COVID-19 cases, and probably not even after that,” the notice reads. 

It’s hard to maintain a social distance in the store, Casas said. With the way people pass a comic from one person to another, there are too many points of infection. The only way he would open the store was if that was safe for customers and staff.

With just pickup and delivery during the shutdown, sales at Apotheosis Comics & Lounge are down about 60 percent. 

“Our plan is to kind of become an online retailer,” Casas said. There also will be deliveries. “We are now having to rebuild our website to make it more user-friendly.”

Meanwhile, there are plans to open Planet Fitness, 4660 Chippewa St., as soon as possible, possibly between Memorial Day and June 1. 

Michael Hamilton, chief operating officer for Planet Fitness Midwest and co-owner of 35 Planet Fitness facilities, said his franchise had a 98-page book on how to open safely. That includes touchless entry; positioning operating machines six feet apart; requiring employees to wear masks and gloves; and wellness checks. 

“We closed before we even had to close,” said Hamilton’s partner, John Clancy. “We’re more concerned about the overall health of society.”

And at Centro, a high-end furniture, lighting and accessories dealer in the Central West End, employees came back the week before Monday to prepare.

“We’re really strict about how we’re opening,” said Ginny Stewart, a co-owner of the store at 4727 McPherson Ave.

Even during normal times, there aren’t more than 10 people in the store, Stewart said. That’s the current limit for gatherings.

While there was one person at the store, everybody else worked remotely, she said. 

Jacob Long, who is Mayor Lyda Krewson’s communications director, said he was not sure how many businesses were affected, primarily because no one is required to be opening. Because of that, it’s difficult to track who is choosing to reopen and who is not.
“We’ve done outreach through the various business and restaurant groups that worked with us on the guidelines. We’ve also done a significant amount of outreach through traditional and social media to try and amplify what businesses need to know,” Long wrote in an e-mail.
“We anticipate the public and businesses will help police this themselves. Businesses are allowed to turn away customers who don’t wear masks if they choose to do so,” Long wrote.
People may report concerns about possible violations related to the reopening at the Report COVID-19 Violations portal on the city’s website,

A full list of the guidelines, requirements and recommendations for the reopenings is in the Health Comissioner’s Order #8, also on the city’s website.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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