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Sandusky State Theater collapse creates more economic challenges for downtown businesses

Posted at 10:51 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 23:14:30-04

SANDUSKY, Ohio — The Volstead Bar is a discrete spot tucked away near Sandusky’s shoreline. Like many businesses there, it heavily relies on tourists. Owner Ryan Whaley said 50% of their customers are from out of town. After being shut down because of coronavirus, Whaley said the bar was starting to pick up momentum.

“We get made or broken in the summertime. Summertime is our time to make money and in the wintertime we have to save that money and we have to prepare for a long hard winter,” he said. “If this went through the entire summer we would certainly have some problems.”

And now Whaley said they’re facing another setback after the Sandusky State Theater, which sits just two blocks away from the bar, partially collapsed during Wednesday’s storms.

“Folks go out to get dressed up and ready to go out for a show—they come here,” Whaley explained. “That’s kind of the one attraction downtown and now downtown is growing, there’s more to do but that is such a big part of it.”

The theater was a cultural landmark.

“The theater holds just over 1,500 people and we’ve been starting to sell out shows and have huge audiences. The theater hosts somewhere between 30,0000 and 40,000 people every year. It’s a tremendous amount of people that have had great experiences there and we’re looking forward to getting things back together, getting back on our feet and welcoming people back in again,” said Executive Director Chris Parthemore.

But the theater was also an economic anchor for more than 100 downtown businesses, including the Volstead Bar. City Manager Eric Wobser said it helped score about $100 million worth of downtown investments over the past five years.

“It is really clear on any given night if there’s a theater event taking place in downtown Sandusky. Restaurants are full, our retailers are entertaining a lot of customers,” Wobser said. “We’re going to work with our businesses. We’re going to work with the state and everybody else that we have to make sure that we get that theater back up and contributing to the livelihood of our community and all the small businesses.”

Whaley and his team are now pitching in to help with the launch of a new cocktail called, “The Intermission.” All proceeds will go to the theater’s repairs.

“We called it the intermission because that’s exactly what’s happening. The theater is in an intermission and it will be back,” Whaley said.