North Avenue Joe Squared is banking on crowd funding

In 2005, Joe Squared opened on a block of North Avenue that most people would have driven by with their windows up. A decade later the stalwart gourmet pizza place, (which, full disclosure, once hired me as a freelance photographer), has turned to crowdfunding in an attempt to stay in the Station North neighborhood that is now known as the city's premiere arts district.

"Basically, the sewage main and the floor in the front is collapsing and the landlord refuses to do anything," said co-owner Joe Edwardsen, during a phone interview. "I don't know how long that building will operate anymore anyway. We haven't officially notified that we're leaving yet. But we're trying to secure our future in Station North."

A few days ago, Edwardsen and his mother, co-owner Kathy Palokoff decided to turn to the site, GoFundMe to help with the restaurant's move a few blocks away. 

"We're not a charity," Edwardsen said. "We thought we'd try GoFundMe. We're a business so we're offering food and stuff. You're essentially paying for food ahead of time."

A $50 donation gives you a $50 gift card and a $100 donation gives you a gift card for the same amount plus access to "24 varieties of risotto and world-class rum"; higher donations give donors "pizza each week for a year," and the opportunity to have a private party. "Essentially, you are pre-purchasing the food and alcohol that you love," the GoFundMe description explains.

Edwardsen plans to move the restaurant to the site of the old Far East House restaurant at the corner of North and Maryland avenues. Initially, the plan was to move to the new Centre complex on North between St. Paul and Charles streets. 

"In the end we couldn't afford the Centre," Edwardsen said. "We couldn't afford the operating costs. It's a beautiful space, but it was too expensive to the point I think they've given up on a restaurant in that space. It's probably going to be retail." 

The owners are trying to raise $220,000 in less than a month to move the business, which, like others in the city, was affected by the curfew stemming from the protests over the death of Freddie Gray. 

"The curfew set us back and we won't have much of a reserve left to move," Edwardsen said. "But we're encouraged. I'm surprised of the outpouring of support. We raised almost $10,000 in less than a day or so." 

Besides the much-needed building repairs, Edwardsen blames the move partly on the rising real estate value in the Station North area. "When we started that strip of North was abandoned," Edwardsen said. "This is a result of gentrification. It's getting that the only new businesses which can afford it are the chains. We're trying to secure the future so we don't lose our real home, original customers, and neighbors."

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