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Dogtown Is Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, Without The Crowds

Some residents of Dogtown have gone all out for this month’s house-decorating contest.
Dogtown United
Some residents of Dogtown have gone all out for this month’s house-decorating contest.

For the second year in a row, the coronavirus pandemic has put the kibosh on the St. Patrick's Day parade and Irish festival that typically bring crowds of revelers to St. Louis’ vibrant Dogtown neighborhood. But the community is still going green this week, finding creative and cautious ways to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint — while also raising funds for what organizers anticipate will be a return to traditional festivities in 2022.

Instead of packed streets, sidewalks and bars, those visiting Dogtown this month will find impressively decorated houses, a series of selfie-friendly paintings by four local artists and a unique way to support the neighborhood’s businesses: a “Discover Dogtown” coupon booklet.

The decision to again play it safe in 2021, with the COVID-19 crisis still looming large, wasn’t an easy one, noted Megan Cobb, president of the Dogtown Business Merchants Association and co-owner of Sweet Em’s Coffee & Ice Cream.

“I grew up in Dogtown,” Cobb said. “I have never missed a St. Patrick’s Day in my entire life.”

It was a big deal as well for fellow organizer Joe Jovanovich, who co-owns the Pat Connolly Tavern and is president of Dogtown United. Last year, he said, St. Patrick’s Day was the first big event in St. Louis to fall victim to concerns about COVID-19 transmission. Organizers never thought they’d have to cancel the festivities in 2021 as well.

“Certainly never in our wildest imagination did we think that [the] lasting effects of the pandemic would stretch to a full year later,” he said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “[But] here we are, pivoting as we have done this last year, once more.”

And the neighborhood has proved to be up to the challenge of finding new ways to show some Irish pride. That’s been especially true of participation in the home decorating contest.

“We got a number of great contestants involved, and it’s been a great community-building opportunity,” Jovanovich said. Online voting concludes today. “We’ll be rolling out the winners tomorrow on St. Patrick’s Day.”

This year’s alternative celebration also features temporary mural installations created by Painted Black STL artists. During March, visitors can view the paintings at four locations scattered across Dogtown: by the Pat Connolly Tavern (6400 Oakland Ave.), in front of St. James the Greater Catholic Church (1360 Tamm Ave.), by Franz Park (along Prather Ave.) and by the Dewey School (6746 Clayton Ave.).

“We’re going to keep them up throughout the rest of the month,” Jovanovich said. “And then our plan is to safely store them away and then we will find ways to bring them back for next year’s celebration, and perhaps find other ways that we’ll continue to grow interactive community arts as part of our future years of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.”

The third component of this year’s celebration, the Discover Dogtown passport booklet, provides a comprehensive list of businesses in the neighborhood — along with discounts and other offers.

“It is a blow to the Dogtown business community yet again to have a second year in a row without the busiest day of the year for many businesses,” Jovanovich said. “And even for those businesses that aren’t bars and restaurants that may or may not necessarily have a huge day on March 17, just that lack of attention on the broader Dogtown community is certainly something that we wanted to try to find ways that we could alleviate.”

The booklets are $15 each and can be purchased online, with the offers within valid through the end of September.

Jovanovich and other Dogtown business leaders are actively discouraging large gatherings in the neighborhood. They’re reminding St. Patrick’s Day fans to keep social distancing and other pandemic-conscious precautions in mind.

“There are no outdoor-approved events in the neighborhood tomorrow,” Jovanovich said, “[and] we certainly don’t encourage folks to gather in the streets in any way that could cause a large crowd that could somehow be dangerous.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.