Like a Grand Dame whose time to take a final bow has come, Busch's Grove has survived and thrived for 111 years, first as a restaurant and recently as an upscale grocery. Almost 40 employees will soon be looking for work.
Clerk Kevin King, who joined the market on opening day two years ago, was stunned and moved to near tears to hear the news.
"I've been here almost two years. I couldn't believe the news. Things were starting to get better. I thought we were going to make it," he said.
Breaking the news to staff and loyal customers was no easy chore.
"It came during the holidays. Everything just seems like a blur right now," said General Manager Tim Hollenbach. "The comments we've gotten from nearly everyone have been nothing but positive."
Customer MaryVirginia Mellow of Ladue was really downcast about the news:
"I'm very sad, but I'm not surprised by the announcement. Items here tend to be expensive and I can't shop here all the time," she said. "I come here for special occasions. After all, it's New Years Eve so that's why I'm here."
Burroughs basketball player Alex Spencer, 17, was at the deli counter on Thursday, having a sandwich made up.
"I just come to grab a few things here on the run. My family doesn't shop here because we live in Chesterfield. I'm sorry the place is closing," he said.
According to the history review on the market's website, The site where Busch's sits today, predates both the market and the restaurant: Beginning in 1855 it housed a store, saloon, stage coach stop and "pleasure resort" for weary travelers headed due west from the Mississippi to the Missouri River.
"This is such a shame. This place is so rich in history. We really have a great staff now and its about to end," said Hollenbach, the face of the group of private investors who called it quits this week.
During the Civil War, travelers stopped by for news updates about the progress of the war. In 1890, businessman John Busch purchased the property at the corner of Clayton and Price in Ladue. As a restaurant Busch's opened for business before the invention of the light bulb and continued through two world wars. It was there when a man landed on the moon.
The jury is still out on up-upscale groceries, what with the Straub's store in Ellisville shuttering within the past 12 months. Meanwhile, Schnucks in Des Peres is targeting the more affluent demographic, serving wines by the glass.
Like a white elephant with no home, the business, dubbed an "inspired gourmet market" will shutter its doors forever, no later than Jan. 8. The business that had become a gathering spot for the toney of Ladue will stand vacant with no apparent bidders or suitors. Everything down to the fixtures and tables and chairs will be sold.
In its days as a restaurant, Busch's Grove acted as a country club for Ladueites who could not or would not join the Missouri Athletic Club downtown. Jack Buck used to frequent the place with hot card games going on in mid-afternoon. Will Rogers and Teddy Roosevelt stopped by during the World's Fair in 1904. Charles A. Lindbergh, who frequented the establishment often and could find Paris easier in a solo open cockpit plane than the men's room was one of the more famous regulars.
Cardinals announcer Harry Carey, fired by Gussie Busch in the 1950s for being too chummy with Busch's wife, held his departing of the ways' press conference while hoisting a Schlitz beer in the backroom of Busch's Grove.
Local athletes loved to stop by when Busch's Grove became a market. Baseball stars Andy VanSlyke and Chris Carpenter are regulars, as is the Blues' recently retired Keith Tkachuk according to Hollenbach.
"You know, once a place has a reputation, it's so hard to change. We still get calls for dinner reservations and Lester Miller's restaurant closed three years ago."
In the latter days of the original restaurant, both the quality of food and level of service came into question. Finally, the doors closed the first time in 2004. Busch's Grove re-emerged as a gourmet dining experience in 2005.
But, apparently the Lester Miller version -- an $8 million dollar replete with a piano bar and sushi station -- were too much even for Ladue. Appetizers at $40 and $60 and entrees at $60-$100 drove customers to Sportsman's Park and Miller's own Lester's in Ladue with more moderately priced menus.
The store's investors closed the place in July and tried to re-brand it as an upscale gourmet market, superior in quality and service to mere grocery stores. The last move lasted just four months.
"Its getting harder and harder to compete with the bigger places today. Look at Schnuck's. They have to go head-to-head with the big boys like Walmart," said Hollenbach.
"Three months is not enough time to rebuild a business. I'd say it should take more like three years," he added.
"I'm very sorry the market didn't succeed," said Ladue Mayor Irene Holmes.
Busch's was seeking a permit to sell wine by the glass at the grocery, a proposal that Ladue's zoning and planning board still had under consideration, Holmes said.
"Like a lot of people around here who grew up with Busch's Grove, I'm sad about this," City Councilwoman Nancy Spewak said about the now-defunct grocery, which is in her ward. "It certainly wasn't for lack of trying. A down economy, with lots of competition, couldn't have helped."
In its incarnation as a restaurant, the vast square footage worked against Busch's Grove, residents and city officials observed.
Spewak ventured to say that perhaps a savvy entrepreneur could come up with a unique business plan, and not in groceries or food and drink service at all.
"This place needs to be a bar and a restaurant not a market," said Hollenbach.
The hastily tacked up signs on doors and shelves said it all: "Store is closing Jan. 8; 25 percent off all items."
And with that, the history and heritage of 111 years will be no more.