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Short North businesses prepare for the first weekend under voluntary city curfew

A police watch tower sits on North High Street in Columbus, fenced off with police tape.
George Shillcock
A police watch tower sits on North High Street in Columbus, fenced off with police tape. Police are stepping up enforcement to curb gun violence, crimes and nuisance violations in the Short North starting every weekend after Friday, May 19.

Short North businesses face a decision whether to close early or operate normal hours past a voluntary midnight curfew this weekend.

An increased police presence can already be felt in the Short North ahead of a Friday night voluntary curfew for food carts and businesses as the city tries to react to successive weekends of gun violence.

A police watch tower equipped with security cameras stands tall on the corner of North High Street and Price Avenue. On a nearby street pole, one sign reads "Emergency No Stopping" and outlines parking restrictions from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Another sign has a photo of a security camera and states all activities are monitored 24/7 as a camera looms above.

A bullet hole still scars the storefront of Roaming Goat Coffee Company next to the open sign. The business was struck during a shootout with police in early May that injured 10 people. Another shooting the next week killed one person in Short North.

Police are expected to step up enforcement on disorderly conduct, inducing panic, street racing, noise, open container and underage drinking according to the Columbus Division of Police Twitter.

As the city prepares for the weekend, brick-and-mortar businesses also face a tough choice of whether to close and comply with the mayor's request or stay open during normal hours.

High Street Businesses open during the lunch hour on Friday like The Union Café and Mike's Grill intend to stay open past midnight for their normal hours. But some, like Seventh Son Brewing on 4th Street, will comply with Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther's request.

Bodega General Manager Joey Doherty said he was still wrestling with the decision as of Friday afternoon. Doherty said he loves High Street and has lived there for over a decade.

"We're going to be playing it ear. If we see that there are issues and problems occurring around us. If we sense danger, which we always have, we've shut down right," he said.

Seventh Son Brewing Co. co-founder Collin Castore said his business figures they'd try out closing early this weekend and see how it goes. He said there are a lot of good things with an increased focus on safety in the neighborhood that could come out of this.

"I can definitely understand the concerns of some businesses who don't want to close up early and feel it may not be the right choice for them," Castore said.

Castore joked the curfew gives him "COVID PTSD" when businesses were forced to shut down to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

"If COVID taught us one thing its let's just wait and see what happens and assess on a day-by-day basis," he said. "Let's see what the mood of the neighborhood is."

Jay Cronley, a patron at Mike's Grill early Friday afternoon, said he likes to frequent bars and restaurants in the Short North and is a server and bartender at two businesses downtown. He said businesses shouldn't volunteer to close but is glad there will be more police.

"You should not ride on the backs of the workers here, making money off of people who like to go out after midnight. It's a highly volatile time for them to make their tips and for owners to make their cash," he said.

He said he doesn't think many businesses will comply and close at midnight.

Zach James, the president of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association and the "sheriff" of his food truck Paddy Wagon said the restrictions on food trucks and carts feels "extremely reactionary and a little bit targeting" to approach public safety by eliminating small businesses.

"There is an obvious absurdity to allowing businesses to continue to serve alcohol until 2:30 in the morning but to mandate that micro businesses selling food shut down at midnight," he said.

James said he thinks many of the small food carts selling gyros, hot dogs and other late night eats may shut down permanently. He said this probably caught a lot off guard who probably purchased supplies ahead of this weekend to operate like normal past midnight when they get most of their business.

He also said he supports some of the restrictions on parking and an increased police presence in the Short North to solve crime and prevent gun violence.

Doherty said the increased police presence and parking restrictions are necessary steps, but they should have happened years ago. He said this will help but pretending as if bars are the problem won't help and he thinks some customers may get scared away.

He said he does think Bodega will weather this but "a lack of people in the neighborhood means a lack of money and a lack of money means business struggles."

He said the last few years there's been a lot more tension in the Short North but much of it is further down the street to the south where things get "more hairy" late at night.

"Turning their attention to that and focusing on that would be more helping than them focusing and pretending like the bars are the problem when it is usually outside sources," Doherty said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.