Main Street strip mall faces another business closure
After three years of business, the Belleville Charhouse, 524 Main Street, closed its doors ast week.
Owners John and Cindy Dakis cited a legal dispute with their landlord as the reason for its closing. They are considering re-opening in the new Davenport building project on E. Columbia on the old Amerman Lumber property.
“People in our community told me they have heard rumors…apparently started by our landlord, about why we had to close our restaurant last week,” the Dakises said in a statement. “To be clear, we closed the Charhouse to protect the health of our customers and employees from conditions resulting from the landlord’s refusal to follow the lease.”
The Charhouse opened May 23, 2011 and brought the Dakises’ 30 plus years of culinary experience to the Belleville restaurant scene.
According to the statement, the building had a leak in the roof that the manager continued to patch but never fully fixed.
The Dakises say that they brought in a roofing inspector who found that the multiple layers of the roof had begun to rot and were waterlogged.
“Our customers began complaining more and more about the musty smell and odor in the restaurant. The roofing inspector said we could be getting mold because of the trapped moisture and continuous leaking. All the time we were losing customers who were offended by the odor.
Because of the threat of mold and the landlord refusing to repair the roof, we felt that for the health of our workers and customers, we needed to close the restaurant and let the chips fall where they may. We could not afford to put the roof on ourselves,” said the statement.
The owner of the Main St. strip mall where the restaurant was located, Sam Kassab, disputed the reason for the Charhouse’s closure.
He blamed the closure on the lack of customers at the Charhouse.
“The Charhouse was struggling financially. When I would go in there, there weren’t many customers,” Kassab said. “The owners said that there was a leak in the building but I fixed it. Sometimes people make excuses to get out of their lease because they can’t afford to pay the rent. Building maintenance is an excuse that they could use with a judge to break the lease.”
When asked why his strip mall has had such a high turnover of businesses, Mr. Kassab expressed frustration with the city ordinances
and regulations stating they are “not business friendly – period.”
He claims that there are two main factors that have contributed to the failure of businesses in his building. The most pressing issue is the sign ordinance.
“The city doesn’t allow for good signage, so people don’t know what stores or restaurants are in the building. They are paying attention to the road and don’t notice the businesses in my building,” he said. “It would be better if the city allowed for post signs or signs on the north side of my building so that drivers could more clearly see the businesses”.
Kassab pointed out that the Charhouse saw an increase in business when they added a temporary sign on the north side of his building, but the city said it could only be a temporary sign.
The second reason that Kassab believes that businesses in his building haven’t flourished is because of building upkeep. While he has owned the building for over 15 years, he was prevented from making improvements to the property because of the proximity of the neighboring building.
“When the laundromat was there, it prevented me from improving my building,” Kassab said.
The laundromat was torn down in September of 2011 after a fire destroyed the property earlier in the year. Kassab recently purchased the site of the former laundromat, making him the owner of the property between the former laundromat and the Metro PCS store.
He also owns some businesses in the city of Pontiac and describes them as “much nicer than the one in Belleville.”
“Fifteen years ago, when I saw this property, I fell in love with the lake and thought it would be a good investment. However, it has proven so far to be a bad investment because of the high turnover of tenants and difficulties working with the city,” Kassab said.
He said he plans to put $60-80,000 in facade improvements before this winter to spruce up his building. “I think this will attract more upscale businesses and long term tenants.”
Kassab wishes the city would work more collaboratively with the business owners downtown. “It would be great to have a business owners meeting alongside the city a couple of times a year. The city should ask the businesses what issues we are having and provide solutions instead of giving more and more rules of what we cannot do. It would be much more productive.” Kassab said his suggestions have fallen on deaf ears.
City Manager Diana Kollmeyer said the Belleville Downtown Development Authority has reached out to the business owners on Main Street, including Kassab, several times and is working diligently to improve downtown.
She shares a concern about vacant buildings on Main Street.
“The longer that building is vacant, the harder it gets to bring businesses in there,” she said. “Improvements to the look of the building would definitely help draw in new business.”
She also disagreed with Kassab’s opinion that the sign ordinance was overly restrictive.
“The sign ordinance isn’t any more restrictive than any other city with a traditional downtown,” Kollmeyer said.
She explained that the side of the building covered with signs wasn’t a look the city wanted in its downtown.
“We don’t want the first thing you see driving into Belleville (to be a bunch of signs).”
According to Kollmeyer, Mr. Kassab came to the city with a conceptual drawing of what he’d like to do with his building, but they haven’t received any formal drawings.
“We are willing to work with Mr. Kassab but can’t start the process until we receive a formal building plan,” said Kollmeyer.
- Lori Werner & William Zilke