Sunday, May 13, 2001

Business suffers after riots

Restaurants, bars await normal days

By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Losses from Cincinnati's civil unrest are continuing to climb.

        Downtown and Over-the-Rhine bars and restaurants say their crowds and revenues haven't recovered from April's unrest and riot, when curfews effectively shut down major night spots such as the Main Street entertainment district and restaurants.

        “Last weekend — if my business was any indication — it came back substantially, but it's not normal,” said Scott Carter, co-owner of Neon's Cigar Bar & Tavern and president of the Main Street Entertainment Group.

        Mr. Carter said revenues among some businesses are down 20 percent to 70 percent from levels before the eruption of protests and violence that followed the April 7 fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American 19-year-old by a Cincinnati police officer.

        Officer Stephen Roach was indicted Monday on two misdemeanor charges in connection with the death of Timothy Thomas, of Over-the-Rhine.

        The Hamilton County grand jury's decision to charge Mr. Roach on charges of negligent homicide and obstructing official business has been met with non-violent protests. That anger, on the heels of April's riots, has prevented many patrons from returning to downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

        Mike Bell of Monfort Heights and his friends say those fears are ridiculous. They are regulars at Neon's and said nothing in the last month has made them stay away. Police are on the streets, and there's safety in numbers, Mr. Bell said.

        “People just need to come back because there's nothing to be afraid of,” said Neon's regular Doug Thomas of Anderson Township.

        But while they drank and played bar games inside the bar Thursday, Neon's popular outdoor courtyard was empty. The sidewalks along Main and 12th streets were eerily empty for a neighborhood known for crowds.

        There also were plenty of open pool tables at Westminster's Billiard Club. To bring back the business, the club is offering half-priced pool Sunday through Thursday during May as well as beer discounts.

        In June, they are offering half-priced pool any night for people bringing a receipt or

        ticket stub from a downtown store, restaurant or event.

        Electra, a dance club around the corner, also is dialing up the promotions to rebuild business. For the past two weeks, Electra and other clubs banded together to charge one cover for admittance to all the bars and clubs.

        Next weekend, Electra will hold a “foam” party, where they fill the dance club with soapy bubbles. Entertainment manager Ken Nickos said last year's foam parties were huge successes.

        But now they are planning the party for a Friday because business is down as much as 50 percent — especially on Fridays.

Reducing workers' hours
               But people are also staying away from businesses south of Central Parkway. Managing partner Nat Comisar said his La Normandie dinner business was off 35 percent for the month of April. His sister restaurant, the five-star Maisonette, is holding steady — despite sizable cancellations.

        One business group of 70 people recently canceled, telling Mr. Comisar that they've taken Cincinnati “off the list” of places they plan to convene because of the continuing troubles and damaged reputation.

        As much as the lack of patrons is hampering the business, the slowdown is hurting the individual workers, Mr. Comisar added. Hours have been cut back for many of the servers, busers and dishwashers, taking income away from them, too.

        Mr. Carter, co-owner of Neon's, said his staff has been cut back many nights, too.

        The cancellation of Jammin' on Main will hurt some, he said, but many of the attendants of the music festival typically aren't bar-goers. He's more hopeful that Memorial Day weekend's Taste of Cincinnati — with its expected crowd of 500,000 — will re-ignite Main Street. Good experiences for those visitors would spread.


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