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Boutique hotels find ways to stay open: 'I'm too obstinate to shut the place'

Hotel Saint Louis and another boutique property, The Last Hotel, have managed to keep their doors open even as big downtown properties nearby have shut down
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — There are no banquet events, and there might be four or five guests a night.

In a hotel of 143 rooms.

Still, Hotel Saint Louis and another boutique property, The Last Hotel, have managed to keep their doors open even as big downtown properties nearby have shut down as the coronavirus pandemic devastates travel demand.

"If occupancy gets to 8% or 9%, we get excited. Before we were averaging almost 80%," said Amrit Gill of Restoration St. Louis, which owns Hotel Saint Louis at 705 Olive St. "But I'm too obstinate to shut the place down."

Gill said he furloughed all but about 35 of 160 employees, and the spa is closed. But he's kept on managers, including one who oversees now-nonexistent events, plus a handful of food staff who operate the Union 30 restaurant on the ground floor. Like many other restaurants, it's offering curbside service.

Plus, "we are feeding all the employees from Hotel Saint Louis who were either furloughed or laid off, for free," said Gill, adding that their families also would receive free meals. Gill estimated that the hotel's kitchens are feeding 300 of those people each day.

Michael Qualizza and partner Neil Freeman said they've resisted layoffs at The Last Hotel, a 142-room property at 1501 Washington Ave.

It's not because business conditions are any better; Qualizza, of Chicago-based Urban Development Fund, said occupancy fluctuates between 1% and 5%, a number that could rise as the company looks to open its doors to first responders who require isolation. The property, "which has been struggling a little bit" since opening last summer, is set to become part of the Hyatt network, as a Hyatt Unbound, on June 1, Qualizza said, an affiliation he thinks will boost weekday sales. 

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