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Delmar Loop businesses revive as COVID-19 retreats

UNIVERSITY CITY – The shine is coming back on the Chuck Berry statue, while hungry foodies are starting to fill the outside tables of Delmar Loop restaurants. 

In the Loop, many merchants are welcoming back workers they let go more than a year ago. Up and down the Loop on Delmar Boulevard, businesses have put out signs proclaiming that jobs are ready for the asking, even though empty storefronts provide evidence that not all businesses survived the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

And behind Joe Edwards’ Blueberry Hill Restaurant & Bar, the trash and recycling containers are showing signs of a reviving economy.

Before the pandemic, trucks made six or seven trash and recycling pickups a week, Edwards said. That changed when everything shut down. Things got so bad last April that trash and recycling service was canceled. 

Later they made one pickup a week.

“A couple of months ago, I went to two days a week,” said Edwards, the businessman and promoter who brought the Delmar Loop to life. Then it was three days a week.

During the pandemic, many loyal employees stayed on, he explained. 

The end of winter has really helped, Edwards said, adding: “Little by little, music will be coming back to the Delmar Loop.”

Many businesses survived with the help of equally loyal customers.

“We’re doing great, but we have the benefit of having just moved into a much larger space,” said Kelly von Plonski, owner of Subterranean Books. At the start of March, that store moved from 6275 Delmar to 6271 Delmar.

Customer support enabled the business to keep going, von Plonski said. 

“It made it so we could hang on by our fingernails,” von Plonski said. “That absolutely is why we are still here.”  

Customer faithfulness also is helping to bring back other Delmar Loop businesses such as the craft soda microbrewery Fitz’s.

“We’re a style. We’ve got a really great community who supported it,” said Amber Allen, a manager at Fitz’s. “Things are slowly starting to get back to normal.”

Workers were furloughed so they could receive unemployment compensation, Allen said. They’re now back.

Even though restaurants now can have 100 percent of the capacity in the building, that may not mean much, because they still have to have social distancing, Allen said. Practically, it’s not possible to fully use a building’s space when people need to leave space around them. 

While some things may go back to normal, others won’t change, Allen said: Sanitation practices emphasized during the pandemic will continue at Fitz’s.

And at Baked T’s, there’s actually a hope that things won’t go back to the way they were before.

“We’re actually doing better now than before COVID,” said Drew Raskas, general manager. In the store, customers can choose from various designs for T-shirts, cellphone cases, water bottles, mugs or other items – or design their own. 

Business was horrid for the two to three months when the store was closed but turned around when the company bought an adjacent store and doubled its size. That business next door closed in part because of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, at Vintage Vinyl, owner Tom Ray said the store had been reconfigured during the 10 weeks it was closed in 2020, to make it safer for customers and workers. He was confident that he could open safely.

“Our business continues to be good. We’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Ray said. “The Delmar Loop continues to be one of the best neighborhoods in the Midwest.”

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com 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 www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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