Indians' season opener sparks hope for downtown businesses working to welcome back fans

Posted at 7:34 AM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 07:41:47-04

CLEVELAND — What used to be packed and oozing with music and baseball cheers, now sits empty; no fans and staff.

Wilbert’s Food and Music, located on Huron Road, is now a dark space trying to recover from the COVID shut down and thousands of dollars in flood damage.

Owner Michael Miller says this would’ve been his team’s 18th year celebrating the start of baseball season in Cleveland.

“It’s Cleveland’s own national holiday,” he said.

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Owner Michael Miller of Wilberts in Downtown Cleveland.

Instead, his team has been benched and forced to sit out this year’s season opener game playing with Progressive field just away from their spot.

“It’s not the way I want it to be, but you just live with it,” said Miller.

Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance says about a dozen businesses have closed their doors permanently.

“I think by the summer we probably will have 125 restaurants that are going to be open and functioning,” Marinucci said. “I think you'll see the impact of that as people return and they begin to explore it and look at their dining options and look at some of the traditional ones.”

Marinucci says there’s more opportunity with the NFL draft coming to Cleveland and the return of shows at Playhouse Square, but the domino effect starts with the first pitch at Progressive Field.

“The Indians are kind of our summer bread and butter,” he explained. “We know a number of those people are going to come down early. They're going to enjoy themselves. We're going to see a little later enjoy themselves.”

The spark slowly coming back to downtown is all the motivation Miller says he needs to push forward. He hopes to reopen by May.

“Every time I see a customer, they’re like what are we doing. It’s we you know,” he said. “We’ll get through it.”