With baseball in limbo, so are Fenway-area restaurants

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The first weeks of the baseball season are “the best time of the year” for Cornwall’s Pub in Kenmore Square, said general manager Bill Moran. The family restaurant, closed for renovations since November, had planned to reopen to coincide with opening day on March 31.

A construction worker walked past stored outdoor seating on Lansdowne Street near the Fenway Park wall. Fenway-area businesses face more challenges as baseball’s Opening Day appears to be delayed, following two very difficult years of reduced baseball crowds amid COVID.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“We have worked very hard to meet this date because it is such an important day for our business,” Moran said. “We have now missed a normal opening day for the past two years due to COVID. And with the Red Sox having such a positive year last year, we were really excited to be back in full steam.

Businesses lining Lansdowne Street were also anticipating a big opening day, said Joe Hicks, chief operating officer of the restaurant group that owns Bleacher Bar, Lansdowne Pub, Loretta’s Last Call, Bill’s Bar and Game On! But after two years of endless pandemic uncertainty, Hicks said he had learned to stay positive under all circumstances.

“A delayed season, we don’t want that, and nobody does,” Hicks said. “We want there to be baseball. But if there aren’t, we’ll find other ways to make Lansdowne Street a great place to go. This is the bottom line. We can’t worry about things we can’t control.

There have been many things Fenway-area bars and restaurants have been unable to control over the past two years, from games played without fans in 2020 to reduced capacity at the start of last season. A work-related postponement – the first to halt games since 1994-95 – will be a “small hit” to business, said Marty Thornton, owner of Thornton’s Fenway Grille, a sports bar.

“Ball games bring in a lot of business,” Thornton said. “A delay would be less commercial for us, but hopefully it won’t be very long.”

The economic hit to Fenway’s businesses will depend on how many regular season games are ultimately canceled, Moran said. With Tuesday’s deadline passing without a deal, negotiations between MLB and the players’ union are ongoing — and unpredictable.

“It’s hard to put a value on the games, but Opening Day and Marathon Monday are two of the most valuable days of the year,” Moran said. “It really hurts.”

Bleacher Bar bartender Megan Leon-Guerrero set tables with views of the still-snow-capped Fenway Park. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

As contentious Florida talks dragged into their final hours on Tuesday afternoon, Lansdowne Street restaurant managers were also meeting to discuss how to promote business outside of baseball season, said Hicks. Luckily, they’re hosting several events to boost revenue that aren’t sports-related, including St. Patrick’s Day and a big Lansdowne Street Country Crawl music festival in late April.

And there’s hope that the end of Boston’s indoor mask mandate this weekend and warmer weather will draw in customers.

“It’s just nice to see normality coming back,” Hicks said. “I think people are more comfortable and more able to go out and have fun. Lifting these regulations is just a reminder that things will get back to normal and that we will continue on the path that we have always followed and that we will succeed.

But without ball games, local restaurants lack a key driver of business. As opening day approached, Cornwall’s was eager to put two years of restrictions and moderate activity in the past, Moran said. Now they are waiting.

“I don’t know who is right and who is wrong in this situation, it’s for [the MLB and the union] to practice,” Moran said. “But it’s just frustrating that they couldn’t come to some sort of agreement to kick off the season. I just hope they feel the same pressure to get back to normal, to start playing baseball again .

As contract negotiations approach their 100th day, Fenway’s businesses, like fans, are hoping for a speedy resolution.

“I hope we get back to playing baseball as soon as possible. Until then, we’re going to find out,” Hicks said. “And go Red Sox.”


Annie Probert can be reached at [email protected]

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