CLEVELAND — The fan-free Indian’s season continued inside progressive field Tuesday tonight and it’s forcing businesses just outside the stadium to close and some for good. However, one owner says he’s not going out without a fight.
Wilbert’s has been around for 17 years. It sits right across the street from Progressive Field so it’s no surprise 80% of its businesses rely on baseball. But owner Michael Miller says since it’s been down to just 2% of that for months and it showed Tuesday night. The bar is usually lit up and crowded with at least 300 Indians fans.
“Everybody comes here and they hang out then they shuffle off to the game and then they shuffle bag,” Miller said.
But while the Indians battled the Chicago White Sox's, Wilbert’s was dim and quiet without any live music. Every seat inside was also empty. Miller says nowadays he’s lucky to get at least 10 people inside.
“I open up for the Home games even though nobody can get in there but at least people can come here,” he said.
Miller says it’s been this way since they reopened following state orders to shut down. He’s watched as nearby businesses gave in as they were unable to survive a pandemic and a new reality without baseball fans.
“There’s no question revenues are down and it’s more of a challenge,” said Michael Deemer, EVP for Business Development at Downtown Cleveland Alliance.
According to Deemer, the Gateway District sees on average about one million visitors a year.
“Downtown economy is really made up of the residents, the office workers, folks who come down for ball games concerts and events,” Deemer said. “Our challenge in downtown right now is that all of that to a certain extent is really dried up and it’s not simply in downtown Cleveland problem it’s something that cities across the United States and really around the world are struggling with.”
Deemer says his team is hoping downtown residents will help support small businesses nearby to help them cope once baseball season ends. Miller says that’s what helped his team finally catch a break this past weekend. Though things quickly went downhill.
“Saturday I had my best night since March and then Sunday I got the call about the sprinkler systems went off upstairs and flooded my place,” Miller said.
Chunks of Wilbert’s ceiling are now scattered across tables and the floor. Miller says there may even be asbestos. The 100-year-old building is owned by another party. The popular bar was forced to close again, but Miller is hoping its temporary. He says when it may reopen will depend on repairs and inspection results.