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Liam Flynn, owner of Liam Flynn's Ale House at 22 W. North Avenue in Baltimore, reported a substantial loss in business during the weeks following the civil unrest in April and May and the city-imposed 10-day curfew because of uneasiness felt by his customers when it came to going out to eat in the city. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore restaurants aim for a rebound from post-riot blues

More than two months after the Baltimore riots and ensuing curfew, local restaurants are still searching for ways to rebound financially and recover lost revenues.

The lost profits for owners and wages for employees have already been incurred, but the challenge is combating the long-term impact of decline in business stemming from the April unrest, local restaurateurs say.

Local business leaders are trying to help.
The Greater Baltimore Committee is organizing a “Boost for Baltimore Restaurants” day on Wednesday for which GBC board members will dine out in the city for lunch or dinner and encourage their employees to follow suit in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of local eating.

The GBC doesn’t have any specific restaurants it intends to patronize because the unrest’s impact on restaurants was so widespread in the city, spokesman Mark Guidera said.

From the curfew’s onset, bar and restaurant owners opposed the loss of key business hours. On the day it was announced, Liam Flynn, owner of Liam Flynn’s Ale House on North Avenue, posted a petition on urging Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake to lift the curfew for adults 21 and older. The petition received 2,500 signatures.

“With a curfew, you will do more damage financially to our bars & restaurants than rioters will do,” Flynn wrote. “In this month, we have to deal with taxes, license renewals, and more. Now you are cutting businesses’, employees’ ability to recover. We have insurance for vandalism, not loss of revenue.”

Rawlings-Blake lifted the curfew by the end of the week, but the loss of five nights of service had already made a financial dent.

“It just didn’t work out well for the businesses; it didn’t work out well for the workers. The only thing that did work out is how customers and regular Baltimore City residents came out in solidarity, basically went out partying early to help keep their favorite businesses open and thriving,” Flynn said.

Although there aren’t specific numbers on how much the industry has been affected, areas relying on tourists as customers, such as the Inner Harbor and Little Italy, seem to have suffered the most, said Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

The drop in tourism traffic is especially concerning in the summer, Weston said, when it is usually at its most vibrant and restaurants “depend on that traffic to help make up for other slower times in the year.”

Employees who rely on tips, such as waiters, waitresses, and bartenders, have been especially hard hit, but even hourly workers could have had their wages disrupted when business slowed in the weeks after the unrest.

“Restaurants operate at such thin margins across the board. When you take even a small percentage of your business away for a prolonged period of time, it really puts stress on the restaurant to maintain employee hours,” Weston said.

The Restaurant Association is working with other local organizations to look for ways to increase tourism to the area, but in the meantime, individual restaurant owners should focus on using creative means to get new business from local customers, Flynn said.

For his bar, that involves appeals to healthier eating and drinking. “We’re trying to get local people to understand that eating healthy is better and make it more accessible, and even drinking craft ales is better” than the standard alcoholic fare, he said.