The small crowd eating wings and omelets at 3 a.m. inside the Nicollet Diner used to have a lot more choices if they wanted a casual overnight bite in Minneapolis. Now, this Loring Park spot is one of the only options in the city for a post-midnight meal.

"There just aren't many places left to get something to eat this late," said 25-year-old Myles Lamar on a Thursday after dark earlier this spring, seated with friends.

A growing number of Minneapolis businesses have pulled back on their late-night hours in the past couple of years, a trend that applies to grocery stores, convenience stores and restaurants that were once known for staying open all night, or at least close to it.

In interviews, managers, workers and a retail association president listed a few reasons for this drop in late-night offerings, including a decline in business, concerns over public safety and changes in consumer expectations in a post-pandemic world.

Sam Turner, the owner of the Nicollet Diner, said he also thinks it's a troubling trend, and that it indicates Minneapolis isn't offering the number of late-night amenities that should be expected in a major metropolitan city.

"If your flight lands in Minneapolis and you're starving after checking into your hotel downtown at 3 a.m., you have zero options," Turner said. "We're an option, but that's about the only one, and that's just very rare for a city of our size."

The change is also a blow to some who work nighttime shifts and hope to find something to eat other than fast food.

Sierra Jones, who had just finished her shift at a warehouse, was sitting with her husband at a booth at the diner around 2 a.m. They used to have a few go-to restaurants for a late-night meal, but their choices have narrowed to just the Nicollet.

"We could've gone to McDonald's," Sierra said, wincing at the thought, "but this is a good place to talk and we know the food is good."

In Uptown, both the Walgreens on Hennepin Avenue and the Cub Foods on Lagoon Avenue switched in recent months from staying open overnight to closing at midnight. The Holiday gas station store, just north of Walgreens on Hennepin Avenue, recently backed up its closing time from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m.

At the Walgreens, overnight hours were removed in order to "accommodate customer and patient needs while optimizing staffing levels in the area," a corporate spokesperson said in an email.

Walgreens employee Kendall Olivares said he isn't sure what led to the reduction in hours, but he noted that staffing has been a challenge. There have also been instances where employees have felt unsafe approaching someone who is shoplifting, which Olivares said happens frequently. Since the reduction of hours in February, "a lot" of customers have told employees they miss the convenience of having a 24/7 Walgreens in the area.

The Uptown Diner, another late-night staple, curtailed its dine-in hours following the pandemic, and for the past several years only offered to-go food after 10 p.m. The diner resumed full 24/7 dine-in service this past summer when Taylor Swift performed in Minneapolis and created additional foot traffic, but that lasted only a few months, general manager Pablo Forero said. Earlier this month, the diner removed its overnight takeout option for Sunday through Thursday, and now goes dark after 11 p.m. on those days.

Forero said it didn't make sense financially to continue offering late-night dine-in services due to a significant decrease in business.

"Ten years ago, I was seeing another ten- to fifteen-thousand dollars in a week," Forero said.

With changes to the Uptown Cub Foods' hours, all six locations in Minneapolis now close at midnight or 10 p.m. Some suburban Cub Foods stores, including in St. Louis Park and Bloomington, still stay open all night. Cub Foods' owner, UNFI, said in a statement that the company reduced some stores' hours as an "experiment to understand what would best serve customers." The company did not answer additional questions.

The number of all-hours restaurants has also decreased nationwide by about 18% since just before the pandemic, according to data from Yelp. Los Angeles saw a much bigger drop, at 35%, while New York and Chicago saw more modest decreases. A quick Google search shows those cities still have significantly more round-the-clock restaurants than the Twin Cities.

Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said he thinks one factor is that consumers have become more accepting of a store changing hours since the COVID-19 pandemic forced most places to do so.

"Retailers just don't always see as much pushback on hour changes that we used to, because consumers are more understanding and more flexible in their expectations," Nustad said.

Some stores have also struggled to maintain enough staff, Nustad said, leading them to reduce hours to operate with a smaller workforce.

Concern about late-night crime is another factor.

"I've seen retailers say, 'You know what? Instead of closing at 10, we're going to close at 8 because we tend to see more problems in that later evening,'" Nustad said.

At the Uptown Diner, Forero said he thinks customers are becoming more concerned about crime in the area and are going to other parts of the metro to eat instead.

"It's not like people ever steal from here or anything, but it does affect where people want to go out and eat," Forero said.

Overall, violent crime decreased in Minneapolis in 2023. But in Uptown Diner's neighborhood – Lowry Hill East – several crime categories spiked.

The neighborhood had 20 shooting victims last year, more than in any of the past five years. It has also seen a significant rise in gunfire reports, from 29 in 2019 to 109 in 2023. The number of aggravated assaults reached a five-year high, with 83 assaults in 2023.

Forero said it became necessary to pay for a security guard during the overnight hours, which made staying open late more costly. About a month ago, the diner did widen its hours, and now allows sit-down dining until midnight on Friday and Saturday and until 11 p.m. the rest of the week.

Turner offered a different opinion. He said it's a false perception that Minneapolis has become especially dangerous, adding that he thinks a majority of city residents don't have the same sentiment.

Instead, Turner said he thinks it's important to have more foot traffic in the city and keep food establishments open late at night to combat that perception.

"If there were more activated spaces in downtown, I think that there would be a higher sense of safety when people come to visit," he said.

Star Tribune staff writer Jeff Hargarten contributed to this story.