Curfew, safety concerns affecting businesses and service-industry workers

Since the announcement of the city-wide 10 p.m. curfew, service industry workers in Baltimore have had to deal with curtailed or nonexistent hours and the reduction in wages that comes with it. The city's many waiters, bartenders, cabbies, cleaning people, and other service workers have expressed how the curfew has been affecting them and their worries for the future.

"Really, the only thing that's hard is not knowing when you are going to work again," says Patrick Martin, bar manager at Metro Gallery, a Station North concert venue and art gallery. "We've been closed since Monday, essentially. Fortunately, we have a small bar staff, there's only five of us, then the security, door staff, and sound. Overall it's about 15 people that work there."

That's a staff of 15 whose wages for the week have disappeared, and that's just from one small, locally owned business. That loss of wages can have a real impact.

"A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, shift to shift, even," says Martin. "Not just people who work in bars, people that work in restaurants, there's also people who clean those places on a daily basis."

On top of that, business is down at many restaurants due to a lack of customers during the reduced hours. Several places have told me they're getting a third of the customers they might normally get. Servers come in just to be cut after two hours and no tables.

"I don't think we're going to fully understand the outcome of this curfew until a couple of weeks from now when everyone is getting their paychecks or they're trying to worry about bills," says Joseph Weeks, who has waited tables at various restaurants in Baltimore. "It's already created a gap in income. As to if that income will somehow be made up via people kind of bum-rushing restaurants when the curfew is lifted, who knows?"

The curfew and people staying home have also affected the city's cab drivers. "Nothing's open. Nobody's around," says Dirck Keyser, a city cabbie. "The way I've been running my cab is pretty much centered around people going out and nightlife and tourism."

Keyser says he was getting 20 rides on most days before the curfew was imposed; that number is down to three. He speculates it's similarly slow for most cab drivers in his company, and not because they aren't out there trying to get fares. "Curfew is killing me, and businesses are closing way earlier even than the curfew," he says. "I was just driving through downtown and its a ghost town right now."

Like many cab drivers, Keyser pays a weekly lease for his cab and after paying his lease earlier in the day, he ended up with only "enough money to make change for my next few fares. It's a fraction of where I expected to be at the rate I was going."

As for the next few days, he lays it out starkly: "I'm just going to have to stay out. Before I was working 10 or 12 hours most days and taking one day off. It was already pretty brutal . . . At the rate I'm going, I don't even know. Driving around, I'm burning gas, I'm essentially spending money looking for work."

Brian Shulman, the owner of Scores, estimates that he'll lose more than $100,000 as a result of the curfew. "The bills don't stop," he says. "I'm mostly worried about the staff. A lot of service-industry people live paycheck to paycheck."

Shulman says that during curfew, last call is at 9:15. The timing is particularly bad for Scores. "Tomorrow night should be one of the biggest nights we've ever had," he says, noting the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight tomorrow night. "I've had every table for booked for a month. Now it's cancellation after cancellation."

The curfew is, of course, theoretically in place to protect citizens and property owners from the vandalism that spread throughout the city on Monday. But Liam Flynn, proprietor of Liam Flynn’s Ale House on North Avenue, says the curfew is having a deeper impact on business than he feels the possible future vandalism might.

"If we have vandalism that ever happens or looting, we have insurance for that," he says.

However, there's no way to calculate the lost income from the reduced hours, especially to his staff who make a large amount of their income from tips.

Flynn says he finds most people supporting the curfew don't actually live in the city and have a skewed perspective of what's happening here.

"I usually get 'How could you care more about profit and put your workers in harm's way?' Which is completely not true. We hire locally. People know the landscape," he says. "There's no way I would fire somebody if they didn't feel safe coming into the area.

"It's quite the opposite—they want more hours, and they want more help. Now any time somebody tries to counter lifting the curfew, I first ask them, where do they live?"

The impression some outside of the city have that it's unsafe here even extends to vendors. Flynn notes he has received notice from some suppliers that they will not be sending delivery trucks into the city.

Moving forward, Flynn thinks that it's up to the community, not the government, to affect positive change.

"We have to be active about what has happened to the city to revitalize it and come out of this in—I don't want to say a better position, but maybe it is a better position," he says. "That we show that we can get together as a community, both business and residential."

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