Doing what they can to survive, St. Louis restaurant shocked by unexpected city bill

KMOV

The pandemic has taken a serious toll on small businesses, including restaurants. But one St. Louis restaurant owner says it’s the city department that’s making it all much harder, when they’re just doing everything they can to survive.

Yaquis owner Beckie Lewis says the pandemic has been painful for their small business.

“When the weather got more warm, we thought, ‘How can we make this work?’ and here we are, trying to make it work,” she said.

They decided to throw open the curbside window, close the street and get creative just like so many other businesses. The city, she said, seemed supportive, waiving the fees normally needed to shut down a street.

“The city is actually going to pay us to do something cool, that’s awesome,” Lewis said.

Until, not long after they started back in the summer, they were told they owed big.

“It literally just said total due $685,” Lewis said. “We had $400 in our checking account,” she said.

Turns out, the fee was coming from the St. Louis Treasurer’s Office, the parking division, a fee to rent out three parking meters on Iowa Street. They are meters that Lewis says rarely have paying customers anyway.

“They can’t collect their $2.30 they normally get from these meters, so now they are going to try to get their 20 a day from businesses around here,” she said.

It’s a big blow, she says, to their small business.

“We cried. It’s been an emotional time for all of us restaurants, small businesses and any little hiccup throws a wrench in our plans,” Lewis said.

They turned to their Alderwoman, Cara Spencer, who says it’s problematic.

“Not only should we be doing everything we can to help some businesses make it through this pandemic, but the reality is our small local businesses drive the sales tax for the city and without them staying afloat, the city itself will be suffering,” Spencer said.

The Treasurer’s Office waived a portion of the fee, the refundable deposit for any potential damage to the meters, but Lewis has still been paying hundreds of dollars to rent out the meters.

“I am actually paying for a service we are not getting,” Lewis said.

Lewis says she was told some of meter fees would be for signage to let parkers know to steer clear.

“No one still has put a sign on a meter but me, I do,” she said.

News 4 asked the Treasurer’s Office if they would waive all the fees for Yaquis. A spokesperson sent a statement saying,

“As it does no one any good if businesses go under, we have shown ourselves willing and open to conversations with other neighborhoods to agree to waive the deposit as a support to help surrounding businesses during this time.”

But Lewis says she’s still paying. The fees, she says, are making it all that much harder to keep their business going.

“If we didn’t have these concerts we would be in financial distress, and the concerts are nice,” Lewis said.

News 4 checked other dining districts, like the Delmar Loop in University City and Clayton, and neither city is charging restaurants a parking meter rental fee to use street parking right now.

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