Already struggling from restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ann Arbor bar and restaurant Good Time Charley’s suffered another blow when a fire broke out on Dec. 9, causing damage to the outdoor patio and seating area. Since the start of the pandemic, owner Adam Lowenstein said Charley’s hasn’t been making profit, but the patio has been a consistent source of income.
“We’re not making any money,” Lowenstein said. “But we’ve got to take it wherever we can. And it was just nice to have one thing that was working. You know, until the fire happened.”
Lowenstein said the fire was started by an outdoor heater which had gotten too close to a wall. He said the fire damaged the interior of the walls and roof and could cost the business up to $50,000.
Lowenstein said Charley’s sales have been down by more than 50% since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place and are currently at a quarter of normal sales since the fire. He predicted their dine-in operation will resume on Jan. 15 at the earliest. The timeline depends on how fast they can repair the outdoor seating area and pending statewide COVID regulations.
“Getting that patio up and running as soon as we can is what we’re focusing on,” Lowenstein said. “We’ve toyed around with putting stuff out on the outer patio that is covered, running electric heaters out there like doing those igloos, something as a supplement, but that’s also expensive.”
A GoFundMe page to help out Charley’s after the fire was set up by Alison Herrick, the accountant for BTB holdings. The fundraiser helps pay Charley’s employees who would’ve served guests on the patio while the business is recovering from the fire. As of Dec. 23, the GoFundMe page well surpassed their $5,000 goal, raising more than $6,500.
LSA senior Nick Bolino, who often goes to Charley’s, said the bar is a key part of his community at the University of Michigan. He said he was eager to donate to the GoFundMe to pay it forward after a hard year.
“I go to Charley’s so often, and the experiences I’ve had there are really invaluable to me in the scheme of my four years at Michigan,” Bolino said. “Many of my friends ended up working at Charley’s, so supporting that community means giving to people and a place I care about after they’ve fallen on tough times. I hope donating to the GoFundMe helps Charley’s get back on its feet as easily and as soon as possible.”
Now, the Charley’s team is focused on their takeout operations and dealing with repairs from the fire. They will continue to use the overhead heaters that have already been approved by the city, but will stop using the stand-up heaters, which were the source of the fire.
Lowenstein said Charley’s is applying for permits to reopen outdoor seating. He also said they are looking into safer alternatives to the stand-up heaters.
“The city is requiring us to go through a permitting process,” Lowenstein said. “Sealed architectural drawings, and unfortunately that will take weeks, if not months. If (the permits) didn’t take so long, we could just do the work and clean it up and put it back together. But unfortunately we can’t just do that.”
Lowenstein said Charley’s has been forced to adapt to the COVID-19 safety measures implemented by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer like many other businesses in Ann Arbor.
“Throughout this whole period, it’s just been a series of adjustments for us,” Lowenstein said. “Everything shut down, then, dine-ins opened again, then students are gone and then everything shut down is reopened again, and we just are bouncing back and forth.”
Many employees from Lowenstein’s other businesses such as Big Ten Burrito and Live have volunteered to help out at Charley’s during the pandemic. BTB employee Scott Lipowski has been helping at Charley’s and said the lack of an indoor dining space limits business.
“We’ve been working together as a team really making sure we’re all okay and kind of supporting each other,” Lipowski said. “We’re really trying to work as a team. But not having the inside sales makes everything really difficult.”
Bolino said since so many Ann Arbor businesses have closed this year, he worries for Charley’s.
“I fear for Charley’s as a business,” Bolino said. “I know how hard this year has been for owners of businesses in Ann Arbor, and I can’t imagine the financial stress of losing the ability to profit on such a prime location. I’ve seen a lot of restaurants I love close for good, and I certainly don’t want to see that happen to Charley’s.”
Despite the fire, Lowenstein said he is overwhelmed by the support and remains hopeful to reopen Charley’s when students are back.
“It’s not just the money but the reiteration that there's so many people out there that support Charley’s and that Charley’s is a special place for them,” Lowenstein said. “And sometimes we just forget that especially these days. And it's just like the outpouring of support just made us feel like what we’re doing is special and important, and that’s as valuable as anything.”
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