COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Downtown Columbus businesses coming back from weeks of inactivity and a lack of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic are facing additional obstacles due to unrest in the city over the last five days.
Two nights of destructive activity left hundreds of windows smashed downtown.
The old F. & R. Lazarus & Co. building, for example, had 89 of its large windows broken. At the estimated cost of $4,000 per window, it could cost more than $350,000 to repair the damage.
And that is just one building.
Simply repairing damage and scrubbing graffiti off of building walls is one cost. The loss of revenue due to the lack of customers is another.
Protests downtown in front of the Statehouse at the corner of Broad and High streets continued Monday. Many businesses simply didn’t open or didn’t bring their staff back to avoid getting them caught up in a situation if things escalated as they did last week with tear gas and unrest.
This week was supposed to be the start of the road to recovery for some downtown businesses. That didn’t happen, though, and instead of customers, many downtown businesses had boarded up windows.
One of those businesses is Market 65. The fast-casual style restaurant sports a made to order salad bar and dine-in seating. Neither of which were up and running much Monday.
“Just when I thought that things couldn’t get much worse… they have,” said Anthony Micheli, co-owner of Market 65. “June 1 was a day that I was hoping that a lot of people in the heart of the downtown would be getting back to the office, and getting back to work, and as you can see, I’m sitting here with you instead of in the kitchen.”
The restaurant leases space in the building and because of the unrest, the management of the building decided to take proactive steps to protect the structure by boarding up the sides that face the public right of way.
This included boarding over the front doors of Market 65, leaving the restaurant with just one entrance, in the back, only accessible if you somehow get into the main building.
And that’s a problem: just one exit isn’t up to code.
“We have to have two exits open and, obviously, can’t have an exit open that’s boarded up,” said Micheli.
Unable to open his restaurant for dine in, and without the public aware there was another entrance to get inside, left Micheli with a practically customer-less day.
“Most people that see a boarded up store front are just going to assume, that that place is not open for business,” said Micheli, adding, “I think there is a certain stigma associated with also the boarding up of a store frontage that has kind of a negative connotation tied to it.”
All of this has exacerbated financial problems for businesses like Market 65. First the COVID-19 pandemic, now civil unrest, he said the hits just keep on coming.
“Just after being closed up for a couple of weeks, we’re already in a situation where we can’t afford to pay some of our bills, our rent, our utilities,” said Micheli.
The restaurant owes $23,000 in rent alone.
“How long we can last is really… uh, you know, there are a lot of variables there and a lot of it depends on how well people work together in finding a solution that works for both parties,” explained Micheli.
While he may be talking about deals between landlords and tenants, he said that really applies to everything, including recovering from the pandemic and the civil unrest of the last five days.
And if his business does go under, it’s not just his business that goes away; dozens of jobs would be taken with it.
“It’s devastating for us, and we just want to get back to operating and serving people,” said Micheli.