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Bar employees prepare for the worst

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | NOVEMBER 04, 2010 7:20 AM

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Bar employees are preparing for the worst.

Managers, wait staff, and bartenders have previously said the failure to repeal the 21-ordinance would cost them their jobs — but they were waiting for the vote.

Now they know. Iowa City voters upheld the 21-ordinance 52-48 percent Tuesday.

"This means we close," said Tom Lenoch, manager of One-Eyed Jake's, 18-20 S. Clinton St. "I can tell you that right off the bat. Me and four other bars right behind me."

As he watched the final results on a TV Tuesday night, he leaned against an ATM, rubbing his hands together. A hush fell over the dozen bar staffers sitting on the high wooden chairs. When the final vote was clear, many stood up, quietly put their coats on, and left.

Lenoch isn't the only one worried.

Miranda Marquez has only been with 3rd Base Sports Bar, 111 E. College St., since August but said she feels the establishment has little time left.

"It hasn't closed yet, but it will most likely," she said. "It's definitely going way downhill."

Two weeks ago, managers told staff the bar would likely close if the 21-ordinance stayed in place, she said. It hasn't been discussed since.

Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo James, 118 E. Washington St., and strong opponent of the 21-ordinance, said that while her business has been 21-only for more than 10 years now and should be safe, she anticipates some businesses to fare much worse.

"I would expect a few immediate closings," Cohen said. "I think there's no question, there will be a washout."

Mike Porter, the owner of three Iowa City bars, including One-Eyed Jakes, has already filed for bankruptcy and has claimed it was a result of the ordinance.

But these closings may not be the end of the world, said University of Iowa Associate Professor of Economics John Solow.

"I anticipate that some bars are going to close," he said. "I don't think it's going to be apocalyptic, I really don't."

And he might be right, if Charleston, Ill., home to Eastern Illinois University, is any guide.

The college town went through a very similar ordinance change 17 years ago with what officials call positive results.

Charleston City Councilor Jim Dunn, said the ordinance — which banned those under 21 from bars — raised nervousness among bar owners.

"There was a concern," Dunn said, and a few bars did close but they were typically establishments violating serving laws.

Solow said he expects downtown Iowa City to be just fine.

"There's a lot of business that goes on in Iowa City between 8 in the morning and 10 at night that is not 19- and 20-year-olds drinking alcohol," he said.

Iowa City City Councilor Regenia Bailey said while the future face of downtown isn't clear yet, the ordinance is just a change in the environment, something common in the business world.

"It's hard to know what the market will do in downtown Iowa City," she said.

But for Marquez, filling out job applications may be in her near future, as she predicted the 3rd Base to have only a few weeks of life left.

"I'm assuming that we would probably finish up football season," she said.


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