Businesses and property owners who built the popular Blackstone commercial district now are building an emergency fund to help prop up the area’s out-of-work bar and restaurant servers.
The fund so far has reached roughly $130,000.
About 200 service industry workers could be eligible for the relief funds, said John Fahrer, a leader of the Blackstone Business Association and owner of Scriptown Brewing Co.
He said they are people (generally paid by the hour and dependent on tips) who could use rent and other assistance as the coronavirus outbreak has shut down or severely shrunk operations at dining and drinking establishments on the commercial strip along Farnam, from about 36th to 41st Streets.
Blackstone Meatball provides a window into the now-slow-moving commercial district whose rapid ascent into a hip entertainment zone started about eight years ago.
Owner Philip Schaffart said a precoronavirus Tuesday typically brought in $2,500 in revenue. This past Tuesday, he said, that amount dwindled to $300 as his place was open only for pickup and delivery. (And that’s without taking out regular operational expenses yet to be paid.)
Schaffart said his five other Omaha businesses, including Pageturners Lounge and Lola’s Cafe in Dundee, are closed. In all, he has about 75 employees. “We’re just really worried about them.”
A few food businesses are leaning on curb service, Fahrer said. “People literally run the order out to you so you don’t have to go in.”
He said Scriptown Brewery has been shuttered all week and has ceased deliveries. Fahrer is working with his landlord and lender to see if rent can be deferred. The association has arranged for a mobile patrol to monitor Farnam Street storefronts at night.
“Everyone just has to take steps to hunker down here and wait it out,” Fahrer said.
The relief fund coordinated by the business association is meant to help out as workers wait for unemployment or other programs to kick in.
Organizers have put together an application process intended to be fast and uncomplicated. They’ll use Dundee Bank as a partner. Eligible are those whose jobs were affected and whose employer is a member of the business association. About 50 businesses are in the group, Fahrer said, and about 20 are bars and restaurants.
Funds so far were provided by property owners, businesses and supporters of the district. Contributions can be made on blackstonedistrict.com/blackstonecares or at Dundee Bank in the Blackstone Cares account.
As restaurant and bar business has decreased, the neighborhood’s high-profile construction project at the historic hotel site near 36th and Farnam continues.
Formerly the Blackstone Hotel, the property is being resurrected and expanded into the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel.
Matt Dwyer of GreenSlate Development, which is spearheading the hotel project, said work on the developer’s coming food hall across the street also is ongoing.
GreenSlate has been a force in building and renovating key housing and commercial chunks of the Blackstone District. The developer is among those stepping up to help the backbone workers of the area.
“The reason why Blackstone District ticks is because of these small businesses and the people inside,” Dwyer said. “We feel a responsibility to do everything possible to make sure their daily lives don’t get thrown into complete catastrophe because of what’s happening, at least to our best ability.”