WORCESTER – Walking down Shrewsbury Street late last Thursday night, this reporter couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was, how few people were out walking around, and how each bar and restaurant passed was practically empty.
It was a relatively warm night, and college was already back in session — a typical boon for weeknights at the city’s bars following a long summer run of relying on Worcester residents that were actually in the city and not on vacation.
When a Shrewsbury St. restaurant owner — who wished to remain anonymous — was asked if he would answer some questions about Worcester’s nightlife, he responded bluntly.
“What nightlife?,” he asked in return.
For the owner of a well-established restaurant on the city’s famed “Restaurant Row” to answer so candidly speaks volumes about the current state of the city’s bar and restaurant scene.
A major concern for the restaurant and bar owners we interviewed was whether or not the city’s college students have the means to — and desire to — leave their dorms, apartments and homes to bar hop and dine out on weeknights.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, staff members from ThisWeekinWorcester.com conducted a survey of more than two dozen restaurant managers, employees and owners from Shrewsbury St., the Canal District, downtown Worcester and Park Ave, as well as sales personnel from local beer and alcohol distributors.
The three questions that were asked of each person were – 1. How has business been since the start of September? 2. Has the return of the college students improved business? And 3. Do you agree with what some of our readers have told us: “There’s no one out in Worcester anymore” and why do you agree with that?
The majority of those surveyed said that business has gotten slower since the summer and deemed it atypical or that the nights that were typically busier no longer were, but other nights have developed foot traffic, and that in comparison to other years, the traffic in their bars and restaurants were down across the board.
“Business is down everywhere,” said a liquor salesman who wished to remain anonymous with sales routes in Worcester. “I couldn’t give you a definitive answer as to why, but I see it in my paycheck every week.”
John Richard, co-owner of Parkway Bar and Restaurant on Shrewsbury St, said, “Business typically picks up for us this time of year, mainly on the weekend. I think it has to do more with people not going to the beach for the weekend and getting back into their weekly routines.”
“However,” Richard continued, “I agree with the readers that there is no one out in Worcester anymore because I can see it with my own eyes. I guess Friday and Saturday nights are okay, but if you go out in Worcester during the week after 8 PM it’s become a ghost town. That wasn’t the case a few years ago.”
“It’s funny, but our busiest time of the year is summer. So when September rolls around, I don’t feel it gets better with the college kids coming back,” Vintage Grille owner Robyn Caruso said.
Most notably, only one bar owner — John Rinaldo of The Muse on Main St. — said that business had actually improved during the week since the start of September.
Rinaldo told ThisWeekinWorcester.com, “I really don’t have many customers that are undergrads. That said, I’ve definitely seen an uptick in business post-Labor Day.”
So where is everyone? What happened to “Thirsty Thursdays” for college students? And what factors are playing into the lack of a city’s nightlife?
Many restaurant and bar owners we surveyed listed several reasons that they all agreed on: there are so many restaurants in the city today compared to five years ago that the same nightlife population is spread out across Worcester, there are so many city-wide activities (bar crawls, beer festivals, cookouts) geared to college students and young professionals that are held during the day or immediately after work — leading to many people “calling it a night” early, and — although none of them could pinpoint why — most that were surveyed said it seems as if the young crowd has less money than people of the similar age group did five years ago.
However, the majority’s verdict is: No one is leaving their house.
Most people that were surveyed said — in one way or another — “Everyone is staying at home” and named Netflix, social media, dating apps, sporting events on television, and other activities as more affordable means to stay entertained and social compared to bar hopping and dining out.
In fact, one business has taken off in Worcester because of the large amount of individuals staying in on weeknights and some weekends.
According to Rob Simon, Growth Operations Manager for Foodler, the home food delivery business is thriving because people are staying home and ordering delivery from Worcester’s restaurants.
“We had a great summer [in Worcester] and a definite uptick in business since the start of September,” Simon said.
While people continue to choose to stay home, host parties, binge-watch their favorite series and play board games, the surveyed group of restaurant personnel all said that they would have to think outside the box to continue to pull in customers and hope that their weeknights turnaround quickly, while the city’s bars and restaurants continue to enjoy their busy weekends.