Panera Bread Company set to vacate downtown locality during December


Hagar Gov-Ari

The Panera near Rock Bridge will absorb some employees from the closing of the Panera store downtown. photo by Mikaela Acton
The Panera near Rock Bridge will absorb some employees from the closing of the Panera store downtown. photo by Mikaela Acton
As of this month, the Panera Bread Company of downtown Columbia, at 102 S. Ninth St. will close its doors for good. Many changes surrounding the development and expansion of Columbia have brought this move about, including raised rent prices and a lack of sufficient business to keep this location afloat.
From the original Saint Louis Bread Company, Panera has expanded into an enormous franchise which has been subject to many changes, from its menu to its constantly moving locations. With the relatively recent opening of the drive-thru included Panera on 100 Brickton Rd. in east Columbia, employees at the downtown location will transfer both there, and to the location on 3709 S. Providence Rd.
Ending it’s 29-year roost at the the Hall Theater, the chain’s downtown presence dates back to when it was still known as Saint Louis Bread Company. Providence Panera employee, senior Mariah Brady claims that although the move will be tough on downtown customers, it will only make the Panera on Providence a tighter knit circle.
“I think it’s unfortunate for the people who live close by and the people that have been going there for some time,” Brady said. “But I think it will be better for our business at least because we’ll be getting their customers and their employees.”
The change has not only affected downtown employees. Providence Panera goes to great lengths to embrace the merge with open arms, while accommodating for the new products on their menu that come with the new season. Though it has been a challenge, Providence Panera manager Beth Avery, who has been a manager at the store for going on three years, believes that the transition will be for the best.
“Because of the opening of the Brickton store,” Avery said, “all of the Columbia Paneras have lost business. From what I understand, [the downtown employees] are being distributed throughout the other three stores. With them closing we’ve had customers … try to figure out how to redistribute themselves. It seems like it’s got a big effect on the customers, more so than on us.”
Brady, who has worked at both the Providence and Brickton Panera locations in Columbia, acknowledges the connection customers have with the particular store they frequent, but encourages the transition to be as smooth and pleasant as possible for both employees and customers.
“I think that right now what a lot the managers are doing they’re just setting in stone more rules and making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to in uniform mode,” Brady said. “But it’s a great time of year and as long as [the new employees and customers] know they can joke around with us and stuff, they’ll see that we’ll treat them how we treat everyone else.”
Senior Bella Gebhardt, who is graduating RBHS this semester and will be attending the University of Missouri – Columbia in the spring, says the Panera downtown proved effective in hosting group study sessions, and in grabbing the occasional bite to eat. Now that it will be closing, she said, she and her friends will be forced to find a new place to eat and study.
“It was really convenient locationally, and I loved the interior,” Gebhardt said. “This Panera had a super high ceiling and it had an oldish vibe that I really liked. I always ordered a barbeque chicken salad and sat in the back booths. It was a really convenient place to meet people, and it’s unfortunate that there won’t be that kind of study place when I go to Mizzou.”
However, projections anticipate sales in the remaining three locations will rise. With change impacting the employees and the customers, Avery hopes to make the switch as convenient as possible for all.
“Any associate we get from downtown, we need treat them just like we would a new associate,” Avery said. “We need to understand that they’re actually not that new, just new to us. We just have to work with them because all Paneras are a little different. They had a pretty good atmosphere at the downtown cafe, and we all just need to be accommodating.”
Though the close will affect both associates and customers alike, the expansion of Columbia and of Panera as a corporation in the city should cancel out any inconvenience. Providence Panera and other locations alike will soon be working together in order to create the smoothest transition possible, while simultaneously making a comfortable and peaceful work environment for those employees who are changing locations.