Businesses are getting back on their feet after last week’s protests
Restaurants around Charlotte impacted by last week’s protests say they are still reeling from losses, but are optimistic that they can work through them.
As protests over the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott intensified, Mayor Jennifer Roberts declared a state of emergency and put in place a curfew.
The curfew halted things in the city between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. While businesses couldn’t be punished for staying open, their customers could be punished for staying. So people promptly decided to stay in and businesses shut their doors.
People also shied away from Uptown earlier in the evening, concerned for their safety after protests turned violent last Tuesday and Wednesday.
Businesses across the city are saying that they haven’t seen business really pick back up since the curfew was lifted on Monday. Some owners report losses as large as 80% and employee hours being cut in half.
At first, Paul Manley, owner of Sea Level NC on East 5th Street, was supportive of the movement.
“The business community stepped aside and said, ‘Please use the area for your cause,” he said. But when protests turned to riots, they knew they “were in some trouble here.”
Manley watched as business was down 70% from what the restaurant would normally do in that time frame, and so far, it’s been “very slow” to come back, forcing him to adjust how he approaches business.
“We’ve made business adjustments in order to ride the low,” he stated. “We’ve had to make tough decisions, but we’re here for the long haul because we have a decent foundation.”
Though he doesn’t feel as though his business is in jeopardy, he imagines other peoples’ are. He could be right.
“You’re hearing of restaurants that are off 80%, and this is over a week,” said Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners. “You get two weeks of being off your numbers that much, it could have a 3 or 4% impact on annual income, and that’s going to play itself out.”
He’s worried about the impact it could have on small businesses.
“In a small business, working capital is everything,” he explained. “It ends up affecting startups, [and] it affects fragile businesses.”
Despite the protests staying, for the most part, localized in Uptown, it wasn’t just business Uptown that were impacted. Jeff Tonidandel, who owns Growlers Pourhouse and Crepe Cellar in NoDa, said he felt the burden of the curfew on his finances.
“We definitely lost a big chunk of sales each night by closing at 11 or 11:30 p.m.,” he said.
That feeling also reached Montford. Andy Henson, who owns both Southside and Angry Ale’s, also had his businesses heavily affected. Despite there being no issues with protestors actually coming down the road, the threat of protests in places like SouthPark and other areas close by caused a significant dip in the amount of people that came out for drinks.
“I think a lot of people stayed home the whole week. Once work got cancelled, a lot of people decided to stay in, which is what the city told you to do, so they were just following the city’s orders,” he explained, but there was still that moment of dread. “It was a huge hindrance to have to close at midnight on what’s usually a pretty busy Friday and Saturday night.”
It’s especially significant for Southside, which is only open on Friday and Saturday night and lost an entire week’s worth of business because of the situation.
Henson is also involved with Flight, which only opened long enough on Saturday night for a televised football game.
“Half of our business for the week went out the window,” he said.
Owners aren’t the only ones feeling the burden – so are the 7,500 employees that make their living in restaurants and clubs.
With one out of every nine workers in the city involved in the hospitality industry, according to Smith, it’s taken a serious toll.
Lars Kruse, owner of Vapiano on South Tryon, told the Agenda that the situation has impacted business significantly.
“Our guest count was reduced by about 80% all weekend,” he said. “And as a consequence, many of our staff had less hours than usual. For some staff, their income during those days was cut in half.”
This sentiment was echoed by others in the area.
“My work force is absolutely suffering,” Manley told me. “They can’t afford to miss one or two shifts, and now they’re missing five or six.”
Henson, too, had workers from Uptown calling to ask if there was any room for them on his team. Even if they had to close early, he said, they were eager to work.
In an effort to help them get back on their feet, some restaurants are teaming up to shuffle employees enough to help them make up for the money didn’t earn, but in reality, there’s not much that can be done.
Despite the difficulties, owners are staying positive – and offering their own suggestions as to how the city and its citizens can help them get back on their feet.
Tonidandel feels like in NoDa, he saw an “increased sensitivity to other cultures and races,” and even though he had to close early, he’s thankful.
“From a financial standpoint, we were most affected by the curfew because we had to close early, but it allowed us to get our patrons and our employees home safely every night,” he stated. “But I definitely keep this all in perspective, and remember the important and seriousness of the matter at hand, which far outweighs a few hours of being open.”
He feels that the damage done financially can be overcome, as do Kruse, Manley and Henson.
“Hopefully this weekend everyone will be back at it and ready to have a good time,” Henson mused. “And we can pick up where we left off.”
“Business rebounded [on Monday],” Kruse said. “And going forward, we do not expect a lasting impact.”
When it comes to getting Charlotte operate as business as usual again, it’s going to take some effort.
“It all depends on how we approach it as a city and group,” Manley believes. “We have to make a concentrated effort to make people feel safe to come back Uptown.”
He’s looking for an “orchestrated effort” to put peoples’ minds at ease on the city leaders’ parts, but not a political one, and says it needs to be done very quickly. The two prong approach might just work, he says.
“To me, what’s important is that we maintain t he dialogue that the whole thing has started and do something with that as a community,” he explained. “Keep the dialogue going, but get Center City back to business.”
Tonidandel believes in the power of keeping the conversation going as well, and creating spaces within restaurants and bars to allow them to be places to heal.
“The more people mingle in diverse settings like NoDa or Uptown and the surrounding areas, the more we can stay open to one another and move toward becoming that more tolerant, united city.”
When it comes to creating that environment, moves are being made by leadership. Smith theorizes that there will be additional programming through the city that’s centered on place making, but that it’s “not going to be a flash.”
“At this point, it’s only been a week, so it’s not like new patterns have been formed,” he said. “We want to make sure the folks who enjoy coming Uptown get back in the habit of doing it.”
That’s exactly what he thinks could help to heal the “acute pain” that spread through a vital part of Charlotte’s economy: venturing back out to a favorite restaurant or bar.
“We are trying to make the community aware that it is the same safe place that they enjoyed before,” he said. “These businesses need [citizens] to come out and support them. It’s not more complicated than that, to be honest.”
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