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Politically Speaking: St. Louis Alderman Joe Vollmer On Coronavirus, Budget And Bocce

Monsignor Vince Bommarito of St. Ambrose Catholic Church on The Hill, Jeremy Bedenbugh, Lead Pastor of The Journey Church in Tower Grove, Alderman Joseph Vollmer, Mayor Lyda Krewson and Alderman Stephen Conway open Kingshighway Bridge May 13, 2017.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Joe Vollmer, center, in one of his trademark Hawaiian shirts, opens the Kingshighway bridge on May 13, 2017.

St. Louis Alderman Joe Vollmer is the latest guest on the Politically Speaking podcast. The 10th Ward Democrat talked to St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann about balancing the city’s budget in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and how he’s dealing with it as a small business owner.

Vollmer represents parts of North Hampton, Southwest Garden, Tower Grove South and the Hill. He’s been an alderman since 2003.

Here are some of things he talked about on the podcast:

  • Vollmer is the owner of Milo’s Bocce Garden on the Hill. The restaurant shifted to curbside takeout in mid-March but still took a big financial hit. “In the first few weeks, it was taking me 10 to 12 days of carryout and curbside to do what I would do in one Saturday this time of year,” he said.
  • There was an unexpected silver lining to the forced closure, however — it gave Vollmer a chance to catch up on maintenance and install a new pizza oven. “To close up five days when everyone else is doing business would be devastating, but if everyone is shut down, it kind of puts an even keel out there,” he said
  • As chair of the city’s Ways and Means committee, Vollmer plays a key role in crafting the budget, which has been pounded by the coronavirus. “It’s staggering what the city is not getting in terms of revenue,” he said. “We’re going from one of the best budget years to, ‘What are we going to do now?’”
  • The city will be able to finish projects it had planned for in the fiscal year 2020 budget, Vollmer said, “But planning for things next year as simple as paving a street or doing a sidewalk could be in danger.”

Vollmer, 61, is a lifelong resident of the Hill. While he is of German-Irish descent, his wife’s grandfather moved straight to the Hill from Italy. 

He took over as the owner of Milo’s in 1989, after stints at a music store and a funeral home.

“I used to play guitar in bars, and Milo’s was one of the bars I played in,” he said. “Bocce had been absent from the Hill for a few years, and as I was playing one night at Milo’s, I mentioned that I was looking for a bar to open bocce courts. The owner of Milo’s overheard me and gave me a call a few days later.” The courts opened in the spring of 1990.

“Besides the recession in ‘08 through ‘10, and the pandemic for the last two months, it’s been nothing but fun,” Vollmer said.

Though he will wear a suit at City Hall when decorum demands, Vollmer is much more comfortable in Hawaiian shirts. He estimates he has about 300 of them.

“A few of them have become rags or napkins,” he said. There are certain ones for certain days, but I’m not obsessed with it anymore like I used to be 20 years ago.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Music: “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.