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21-ordinance could cause layoffs

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | APRIL 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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It was a typical Thursday afternoon for Nora Gosselin: hurriedly seating patrons, placing orders, and delivering entrees at the Summit.

She’s worked at the bar for nearly two years, but the city’s efforts to decrease problem drinking could put her position in jeopardy.

With the Iowa City City Council set to hold its final vote on the 21-ordinance next week, employees at downtown bars are bracing for possible side effects, including staff reductions.

Talk of job cuts has been increasing among bar employees since discussion of raising the bar-entry age began in March.

“I’m sure it’s in the back of everyone’s minds,” Gosselin said.

Mike Porter, who owns the Summit, 10 S. Clinton St., along with two other downtown establishments, said he’s certain his business will have to downsize their workforces if the ordinance takes effect.

“It’s going to be a lot of people getting fired,” Porter said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Porter said if the ordinance passes, he’ll probably have to close down Summit’s kitchen, losing 30 employees in the process, and lay off 20 night staff members. The ordinance could force him to lay off people at his other bars, One-Eyed Jakes, 18-20 S. Clinton St., and Vito’s, 118 E. College St.

Other downtown establishment are also preparing for the potential loss in revenue.

Lane Gries, a security staff member at 3rd Base, 111 E. College St., said there’s been discussion about reducing hours for employees.

Union owner Marty Maynes said the ordinance could do more damage to his business than just a few jobs — it could close him down before a general election in November could reverse the decision.

“I understand the city has tried and tried and tried, and this has become the last issue,” he said. “But I’m scared, and I’m sad.”

Some downtown bars are staying optimistic.

Travis Nelson, manager and bartender at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., noted the majority of its patrons are older than the legal drinking age.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect us much,” he said. “I think we’re going to sail through this.”

His one concern with the ordinance, which would take effect at 10 p.m., is that it could keep out underage people during late-night performances, he said.

“That probably could hurt our attendance,” he said.

Though that could have an effect on the restaurant/bar’s revenue, Nelson said he doesn’t anticipate having to let go of any workers.

Bill Bryce, a co-owner of Sports Column, 12 S. Dubuque St., has a similar concern for his establishment: evening televised sporting events, which often last later than 10 p.m.

He said he’s hesitant to speculate how the ordinance might affect his business, and he plans to “wait and see.”

“We don’t want to let anyone go, obviously,” he said. “But we also have to keep the doors open.”

Councilor Regenia Bailey, the only member of the City Council opposing the ordinance, said Bryce is taking a “very wise approach.”

“I understand that businesses have to adapt to changes in the environment,” she said. “This will be one of those challenges.”

Other councilors aren’t sympathetic.

Councilor Connie Champion suggested bar owners adjust to decreases in revenue in other ways, such as offering fewer drink specials.

Still, the potential for staff reductions has Summit waitress Katrina Christenson worried.

The UI junior, who has been employed at the bar for five years, secured a second job for the summer — just in case.

“[Layoffs] would really suck,” the 22-year-old said. “This is what pays my bills.”


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