In the wake of last weekend's protests over the police killing of George Floyd – and the destruction that followed – many downtown Cleveland bar and restaurant owners from Public Square to Playhouse Square are picking up the pieces and assessing the damage.
While many of the owners and representatives to whom Scene spoke are supportive of the cause, they can’t help but also express desperation surrounding their current situation, which lands on their doorsteps just as business had begun to pick up after months of Covid-based inactivity.
Society Lounge on E. Fourth Street, closed since mid-March, had recently reopened as a “socially safe space” with nine tables spaced more than six feet apart. With a couple weeks of books to evaluate, owner Joey Fredrickson says that business, while not booming, was better than expected.
“Considering that there were no downtown events, we were very happy with it,” he reports. “It was surprisingly good.”
The reopening period did not last long, of course, cut short by protests that turned violent and emergency curfews that extend into this weekend. Society Lounge, like dozens of other downtown businesses, sustained extensive property damage, theft and loss. But that wasn’t the issue causing Fredrickson sleepless nights.
“It wasn’t that bad,” he states. “It was all things that I’m sure insurance will cover. And it all pales in comparison to the bigger issues. The hardest part was telling my team that they had to go back on unemployment. That was the only time that I crashed because they had just put so much work into getting us reopened.”
Yours Truly founder Larry Shibley operates restaurants throughout Northeast Ohio, but only recently opened a downtown location in Playhouse Square. He says that company projections predict that the city center location will outpace all of the suburban stores once the theaters and hotels are “clicking normally” again, but that’s certainly not the case as it currently stands.
“We had a pretty significant break-in and a looting of all the bar products,” Shibley explains.
Plywood already is up where the windows once stood and the landlord likely will dispatch contractors to install new panes. But the down time, ever-present uncertainly and safety of his staff are weighing heavy on the owner’s mind.
“With Covid recovery we’re going through, and to put this on top of it, and not knowing an end point,” he says. “We’ll be cleaning and assessing tomorrow and move from there. We can probably reopen within a week, but we have to know that it’s secure. I don’t want to put any employees at risk. But we have a duty to take care of the community there and we want to do it as soon as we can.”
Jennifer Seaman McGinty, whose husband operates the Clevelander Bar on W. 9th Street, posted a heartfelt response
to the situation that she and owner Pat found themselves in Sunday morning. The bar was looted, she explained, but she expressed compassion for the cause.
“There is damage,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “It will cost money. It is fixable.”
She continued with, “I hope the injustices, oppression and racism we have subjected our black peers to for hundreds of years is fixable. I hope change is on the horizon.”
Cathy Greene, who owns Cathy’s Gourmet Ice Cream Sandwiches, was relieved to learn that her store on Euclid Avenue escaped without damage. But she quickly steered the conversation away from her and her business to the larger picture.
“I was pretty shocked, but very thankful that our store was not hit at all,” Greene explains. “But we don’t want to pull attention away from the major issue, which is bringing justice to what happened to George Floyd but also countless others who were wrongfully and horribly taken from this earth at the hands of police officers.”
On Saturday, Greene is planning a “Power of Our Dollar” event
to benefit the George Floyd Family Go Fund Me Account as well as the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
Numerous downtown business owners are grappling with the agonizing decision of not when to reopen, but if they should reopen at all given a generationally unique climate that includes a pandemic, restrictive curfews and uncertainty as to when major events will return to town.
“I don’t know how long this will impact us,” Fredrickson notes. “Who knows when downtown will be back to where we are used to performing at.”