Restaurateurs curb Canal District concerns

WORCESTER, Mass. — Following the closure of a handful of restaurants in the Canal District, there have been concerns about the neighborhood’s long-term viability for business.

What do you want to know

  • Local business leaders weigh in on the closure of several Canal District restaurants
  • They believe a combination of staffing issues, inflation and food delivery services are the root causes.
  • A local economics professor says Polar Park hasn’t yet given the boost many expected
  • Although there is often parking nearby in the canal district, some believe people have been put off by the crowds

Ed Russo, owner of Lock 50 and Italian restaurant Russo, thinks there’s no need to panic.

“One in five restaurants succeed, four fail, so you’re going to see that change,” Russo said. “I honestly think where restaurants leave, other than those that have been sold off for development, you’ll see new restaurants come in.”

But as Canal District restaurants like Smokestack Urban Barbecue and Maddi’s Cookery and Taphouse prepare to permanently close their kitchens, people are looking for answers. Acting City Manager Eric Batista said there was no single explanation.

“There are many factors and many variables that impact our businesses, from the pandemic, to the labor market, to rising prices, to even trying to find wait staff,” said Batista. “Even the idea of ​​delivery services, whether it’s GrubHub or DoorDash.”

When Polar Park opened last year it presented an opportunity for restaurants in the Canal District to reach thousands of new customers, but Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson thinks it didn’t exactly worked that way.

“The reason for that is that a modern ballpark like Polar Park is a great kind of city on its own,” Matheson said. “There are 10 different restaurants in there, which means a person who goes to the stadium doesn’t necessarily end up going to Urban Smokestack or the Worcester Public Market after the game, because there are so many great deals in the stadium walls.

There have also been concerns about parking, but several people Spectrum News spoke to said the problem wasn’t a lack of nearby land, it was the perception that the area is too convoluted to navigate when there is a match in progress.

“We know crowds and traffic jams cause problems,” Matheson said. “In fact, we knew that from the days of Yogi Berra, who said, ‘Nobody goes there anymore, there are too many people.’ Having so many people in the area actually makes it harder to attract customers.”

Although it is a time of uncertainty, restaurateurs who have managed to roll with the punches like Jean-Luc Wittner of Suzette Crêperie & Café believe that stability is coming.

“We have these challenges, and the environment, which is the ballpark and everything the city does here, is a moving environment,” Wittner said. “So we’re in that transition, hopefully for a better future, and I still mean that.”

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