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Business

Biz Owners Hope City's 'Vibe' Returns After Protests

diners at Essex Charlotte
David Boraks
/
WFAE
A few diners were at Essex Bar & Bistro in the Omni Hotel before uptown protests began Sept. 21.

Businesses around Charlotte saw sales drop during last week's protests over the shooting death of Keith Scott. But now that a curfew has been lifted and the weekend is approaching, they're hoping for a rebound.

Violence during the first night of protests uptown last Wednesday left some hotels, stores and restaurants, including those around the EpiCentre, with broken windows and other physical damage.

But the week of protests also scared away customers, causing financial damage that most are still recovering from.  

“We lost five days of business in an industry that's kind of a slim margin industry anyway. So economically it's been pretty devastating for the hospitality industry in general uptown,” said Paul Manley, who owns Sea Level, a seafood restaurant on Fifth Street.

Manley says sales were down 70 percent.

And it wasn't just uptown. From Thursday to last Sunday, the city imposed a midnight to 6 AM curfew throughout the city.  

Joe Kuhlmann owns The Evening Muse, a music club in the NoDa neighborhood three miles east of uptown.

“I've been here for 15 years and I had my worst week last week,” he said Thursday.

Kuhlmann isn’t blaming the protests. In fact, he actually helped lead one in NoDa Saturday night, after closing the Muse early. He thinks city leaders "overreached" in declaring a curfew.

Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, compared the protests to other business disruptions, like hurricanes or snowstorms.

“These are small business owners, often with not great working capital. So if you're off 80 percent of your sales forecast for seven days in a row that can close your business. That can require you to reduce staff significantly, sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily,” Smith said.

That’s especially painful for restaurant servers, bartenders and others who make most of their money on tips and often can’t afford to miss a day’s pay.

Smith hopes that with the curfew and protests now in the past, diners and shoppers will return.  He’s begun seeing hopeful signs as he walks his dog every night uptown this week.

“You're starting to see the customers coming back. It was really quiet on Tuesday night, last night you could feel the vibe starting to come back,” he said Thursday.

Business owners hope that vibe picks up this weekend.