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‘It hurts all of downtown’: With no baseball crowds, business owners navigate a lost summer

"We truly miss having the opportunity to host millions in downtown St. Louis"
Credit: AP
A concourse inside Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, is seen through a locked gate Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in St. Louis. The start of the regular season, which was set to start on Thursday, is on hold indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — For Mike and Cathy Rancilio, St. Louis Cardinals baseball isn’t just their livelihood. It’s also a staple of their marriage. 

The husband and wife team sells hot dogs, peanuts and other baseball staples at vending stands near the Stan Musial statue outside of Busch Stadium. Their presence outside the ballpark selling hot dogs and peanuts is about as much of a constant as the statue.

Mike began selling items outside the stadium in 1991, prior to the couple’s marriage. Their business has spanned multiple versions of Busch Stadium and even expanded over the years with the addition of their hot dog stand in 2011. But now their tenure may be nearing its end. 

Without baseball, the Rancilios’ vending business can’t operate. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the seasonal business to halt. 

“We’re totally dead, of course,” Cathy Rancilio said.

The lost summer comes as the Rancilios have discussed retirement over the past few years. Those plans may be accelerated now. 

“We don’t know if we’re ever going to be back at this stage,” said Rancilio. “We’ve been talking about it over the last couple of years about how to exit. We may have just been given that opportunity, but we wanted to plan it more than have it shoved on us.”

The Cardinals this week began “summer camp” in preparation for a truncated 60-game season set to start later this month that, for now, will not include fans at Busch Stadium. However, for the Rancilios and other downtown business owners that rely on baseball crowds, the shortened season can only do so much to make up for losses already accrued. 

“It hurts. It hurts all of downtown and anything surrounding the ballparks. You don’t have the amount of overall people down here,” said restaurateur Stephen Savage. He is co-owner of three downtown bars and restaurants — Wheelhouse, The Midwestern and Start Bar — located on Spruce Street, just blocks from Busch Stadium.  

The Cardinals, which perennially draw 3 million fans each summer to Busch Stadium, are a boon to the downtown economy. The St. Louis Regional Chamber estimated last year that the team would generate an economic impact of $303.3 million during the 2019 season, with more than 40% of fans coming from out of town. The team has “served as a cornerstone of downtown St. Louis for decades,” said Downtown STL President and CEO Missy Kelley, who said she’s encouraging fans to spend one of the Cardinals home games downtown to watch the game on television at a bar or restaurant. 

“We truly miss having the opportunity to host millions in downtown St. Louis, but know the safety of our downtown community, including residents, workers and visitors, is our top priority,” Kelley said. “We hope as our community feels comfortable, they’ll return to supporting local businesses and enjoy time with friends and family downtown.” 

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