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Old Market businesses weigh when to pull down boards, need people to help them 'bounce back'

Old Market businesses weigh when to pull down boards, need people to help them 'bounce back'

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Havana Garage manager Chaz Kline plans to keep his family’s cigar bar open all weekend, despite uncertainty about a new round of protests and a reinstated city curfew.

Staying open is a symbol that shows people local businesses see a path forward in gathering together, said Kline, whose bar is near 10th and Howard Streets.

“There’s an opportunity to socialize and interact with people,” he said Thursday.

This weekend, he said, he plans to pull down the boards protecting his windows when he opens and put them back up when he closes. He said he had expected the curfew to be reinstated, and he will make adjustments accordingly.

To demonstrators, he said: “I am all for them doing it; just keep it cool, man.”

Owners, residents and volunteers began prying the boards off windows in Omaha’s Old Market this week, inching toward reopening. But they can’t predict what the coming days will bring.

On Thursday, the Old Market Association told neighbors to wait a few days to take down the plywood because of potential new protests, and Mayor Jean Stothert reinstated a 10 p.m. curfew for Friday and Saturday nights.

Several in Omaha’s showpiece neighborhood of eclectic shops, restaurants, bars and apartments said protest-related closures and public fear of conflict hit them like a new round of coronavirus restrictions.

Old Market businesses had hoped to remove the last of the boards this week, said Chip Allen, president of the association.

But protests are now expected on Friday and Saturday at multiple locations, including downtown and perhaps the Old Market.

Most owners and residents The World-Herald spoke with on Wednesday, including Jackson Street Booksellers co-owner Amanda Lynch, empathized with people protesting systemic racism and mistreatment by police.

Her shop displayed a sign all week that said, “We stand with you with broken hearts.” She said she couldn’t bring herself to board up the book shop’s front windows and door.

Jackson Street Booksellers sign

The sign in the front window of Jackson Street Booksellers was one of many offering support for protesters.

“We didn’t like the message it would send,” she said, choosing instead to stand outside and watch parts of the protests of recent days. “We want people to feel welcome.”

One of the hardest parts for those who run restaurants was the timing of the protests, coming off the first Friday night with a pre-coronavirus-size crowd since March, said Ross DiPrima, owner of Jackson Street Tavern.

“Coming out of COVID-19, we were worried it was never going to be the same,” DiPrima said. “Friday felt like we were going to get back to normal. Saturday night was decent. Then things changed.”

On Saturday night, several businesses, including nearby J’s on Jackson, rushed to close and get workers out as protesters came downtown from 72nd and Dodge Streets — the original epicenter of the protests.

Some vandalized property, including smashing windows and tagging buildings with graffiti.

J’s on Jackson executive chef Zeb Rogers came back to work to find that someone had turned off power to the restaurant from outside the building overnight, flipping a switch that cost the business about $8,000 in food.

Because of COVID-19-related stress on restaurant supply chains, including farmers markets, replacing that food could take days, which means a day or two with no sales, and puts the weekend in question.

Most who spoke with The World-Herald said they were heartened by public support on Sunday from community members who came in droves to help clean up the mess.

Hollywood Candy owner Larry Richling said he saw graffiti on his shop and wondered how long it might take to clean up. He went inside to make a call and came back out to find a young girl scrubbing it away.

Richling said he, like many proprietors, works seven days a week, 12 hours a day to keep his shop going. That includes making payroll for his 15 to 20 employees, even when the store has to shut down unexpectedly.

downtown(3)

Windows are boarded up in downtown Omaha on Monday.

DiPrima said he felt a responsibility to come down and open his restaurant quickly to convey his commitment to the people who live, work and play in the Old Market.

Monday was about to add bar traffic to the mix, thanks to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ directed health measure, effective June 1.

Jacki Henery, co-owner of long-shuttered T. Henery’s Pub, had just finished modifying her bar to host people safely.

She put up boundaries, including plastic glass around the bar. She set up tables for social distancing and got the patio ready.

Then James Scurlock was shot dead nearby and, like many, she went home and cried.

“It was like Christmas and Santa’s coming, and he hit a hurricane,” she said.

Henery hopes to open her bar later this week or this weekend.

Richling said he hopes people understand how safe the Old Market is and how much their business means to the life’s work of small-business owners there.

“I think we can bounce back to where we were last week, eventually,” Richling said. “But it might take a few more weeks to get past that scare.”

Photos: Protest of George Floyd’s killing draws thousands in Omaha



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