Like most locals over 30 I grew up thinking of the Plaza as the Crown Jewel of entertainment, dining and shopping in Kansas City. And from the 1960’s through the 1990’s the Plaza had it all.
With innovative restaurants like Houlihan’s, unique, upscale stores like Hall’s, and nightclubs like Biba’s and Dirty Sally’s, the Plaza was the place to see and be seen. All of those are gone, along with probably 50 more once familiar names.
The Plaza has redone itself twice since the 1990s.
And as we all know it’s gone almost completely corporate, eliminating almost all locally owned venues. Late night entertainment has been all but eliminated. The last true nightclub was Blonde which closed four years ago.
The Plaza still boasts some unique shopping opportunities, a sports bar and a few nice dining spots like The Cheesecake Factory, Brio Tuscan Grille and Capital Grille, but they’re all chain restaurants, nothing really unique.
Attendance on the Plaza has fallen dramatically over the last two decades. This sad reality hit home when the Kansas City Star began doing surveys about people who live in southern Johnson County going to the Plaza. By the year 2000, the average person there went to the Plaza no more than twice a year. And since that survey things have gotten much worse for the Plaza.
In fact, the only monster event the Plaza has anymore is the early fall Plaza Art Fair which still draws tens of thousands. The Christmas lighting ceremony which media used to brag had attendance of more than 200,000 people got punked several years ago by Hearne, who teamed with the UMKC statistics department to actually measure and count the crowd, which turned out to be 20,000 and change.
While it remains one of the most gorgeous shopping districts I’ve ever seen, it almost has to be on the edge of financial ruin.
In a word, the Plaza is dead.
Busy weekend nights – which are rare – look like what average weeknights used to look like. Even popular bars like Kona Grill were putting chairs up on tables before midnight when I was there last Friday on a date.
My female companion and I had walked there from Tomfooleries, which had less than 50 people when I got there Friday around 9:15 pm. The Plaza was a ghost town. It looked like a blizzardy Monday night as far as people walking around.
There just weren’t any.
Sure, the Granfaloon sports bar was half full at midnight as was O’Dowd’s but these two bars and many more used to have lines outside the door to get in. Especially on a beautiful, cool summer evening in early June.
1) The population surrounding the Plaza has fallen and/or aged.
2) Kansas City, Missouri has become increasingly dominated by an urban population – primarily blacks and latinos – with far fewer white people moving there.
3) Johnson County continues to explode. It has all the cool, new stores, shops, and restaurants – a growing population – and far less crime.
4) Most people tend to shop, play and hang out near where they live. Since not that people are living near the Plaza that can afford its upscale stops and restaurants, it gets slower by the week.
5) The young black kids hanging out on weekends hasn’t helped matters.
6) There’s really nothing there you can’t get at many other nice shopping developments around the city.
7) People are price conscious when it comes to clothing, jewelry and other apparel and Plaza prices are the highest in town and often are not justified. Even Halls Plaza is closing.
8) Online shopping has hurt retail shopping everywhere, including the Plaza.
They were even afraid to bring in a Stanford’s Comedy Club a few years back, fearing it would draw a young unruly crowd at night.
The opposite is true, the Plaza needed an adult evening entertainment spot besides the movie theater. And as of now, they really don’t have one.
The hierarchy of the Plaza has also eliminated nightclubs for fear they will draw black customers. Plaza leadership, have you ever been to Kanza Hall at 119th and Metcalf or other nightspots that only play techno music? Hello?
I used to live at the Sulgrave on the Plaza in the 1990s. I loved it there. It was a beautiful place to live and I remember seeing Christmas shoppers fill the sidewalks weeks before the holiday itself.
I still take my girlfriends to the Plaza for dinner. The new hotel near where JJ’s blew up has a great bar but it too has gone quiet. It actually brings a tear to my eye.
One thing I left out in my reasons the Plaza is doomed:
On top of all its other problems, Kansas City has no tourism.
Johnson County is the new Kansas City.
The malls are packed, the streets are jammed with cars day and night. It’s clearly Kansas City’s future.
I still long for the days of FAO Schwartz, Sharper Image, even Ruth’s Chris but they’re all gone and basically forgotten. As Hearne once quoted me in the Kansas City Star, nothing lasts forever, not even flowerpot bread. Or in this case, the Country Club Plaza.
It breaks my heart.