Little City Brewing and Provisions was settling in and becoming profitable six months after it opened in September in the Glenwood South neighborhood.
Then The Metropolitan apartment building under construction a block away caught fire March 16. A street that leads drivers and pedestrians to Little City remains closed while crews make repairs, and the business is struggling to attract customers.
Now the owners of Little City and also Clouds Brewing say they want Raleigh to play a more active role in helping businesses in the downtown neighborhood survive until the streets reopen.
“It’s going to be a long, painful bleed-out if something doesn’t happen,” said Little City owner Jon Seelbinder, adding that he would have expected his business to be making four or five times as much revenue at this point. “We invested pretty heavily in this space, and we took a leap of faith to develop with the neighborhood.”
Adam Hoffman, a co-owner of Clouds Brewing on West Street, also a block from the fire, said his business has seen steep declines in foot traffic, especially from state employees who would walk a few blocks down Jones Street for lunch. The lunch crowd has been down between 75 percent and 80 percent since March, he said.
Other businesses affected by street closures include the Tobacco Road Sports Café and 42nd St. Oyster Bar.
Investigators have not been able to determine what caused the massive fire that destroyed The Metropolitan at the corner of Harrington and Jones streets. The blaze also damaged nearby office buildings, the Link Apartments and the Quorum Center, which has condominiums.
Three streets near the fire site are still closed – Jones, Lane and Harrington. Raleigh initially closed the streets for public safety and to allow investigators to access the scene, city spokesman John Boyette said.
They are still closed at the request of the owners of the buildings that are being repaired, he said.
On Thursday, a city representative and construction contractors met with business owners to talk about a timeline for reopening streets and what could be done to help keep businesses afloat in the meantime.
Seelbinder and Hoffman said they learned during the meeting that one lane of Harrington and Lane streets could reopen by the end of the year, after repairs are finished at the Link and the Quorum Center. Pedestrian access could be open sooner.
Construction around the Metropolitan, which will be rebuilt, is expected to be finished by January 2019, he said.
Seelbinder said he wants to work with the city to get a clear detour route in place so customers can find Little City, located on the ground floor of the 17-story West condominium building on North Street.
He also wants to figure out how to recoup lost revenue.
“Best-case scenario, we also get some financial relief,” Seelbinder said. “From the city, from insurance, whatever.”
He said Little City’s insurance policy has a loss-of-business clause, but “they’re going to fight us pretty hard, because our business wasn’t technically damaged in the fire.”
Hoffman said he wished Thursday’s meeting had taken place sooner.
“Previous to last week, questions to the city had seemingly fallen on deaf ears,” said Hoffman, who is president of the Glenwood South Neighborhood Collaborative. “Just being able to sit down and talk about the situation has helped – it doesn’t help my business any, but you don’t just feel like you’re in the dark, and that’s the worst. We felt that way for a long time, but now at least we have some idea, and we can start making plans.”
Seelbinder’s group Local Icon Hospitality operates several other downtown businesses, including Architect Bar, Green Light, Virgil’s Original Taqueria Taco Bar, Level Up and Linus & Pepper’s. He said Raleigh should always look out for small businesses.
“If you look at what we feed back into the city with taxes and jobs, it’s significant,” Seelbinder said. “The city and the country are built on the back of the small-business owner. If these major companies can take bailouts, then for the city to help us get through a tough time, that’d be a best-case scenario. But it’s all about what’s available.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan