Donald Trump’s GOP convention is killing small businesses in Cleveland.
From strip clubs to dive bars, managers, supervisors, and servers who spoke with The Daily Beast say the RNC didn’t live up to the hype, at least as far as generating business. They cited security concerns, business closures, and parking problems as contributing factors to a week of disappointment.
“It’s been horrible, to tell you the truth,” said Bryan Cook, a manager at Panini’s Gateway, a restaurant and bar a few blocks from the convention site. “I went into this week thinking it was going to be something comparable to the Cavs playoffs, and it wasn’t even a tenth of that.”
Business was actually worse this week than on a typical week, Cook said, adding that the prohibition of street parking—coupled with parking garages jacking up their rates for the week—made Clevelanders less likely to drink downtown. And RNC attendees didn’t wander far enough from the convention site to make up for that.
Cook said business also lost customers during the lunch hours, since many downtown Cleveland establishments closed down during the RNC because they figured their employees wouldn’t be able to find parking. He added that though his restaurant got a special permit to stay open until 4 a.m., it saw no uptick in late-night business.
Monica Howard, a supervisor at the restaurant J. Gumbo’s, said many of her regulars stayed away from downtown because of the convention. And the delegate bump didn’t compensate for that loss.
“Everybody got hit this week, as far as the volume of people,” she said. “It was the total opposite of what we were expecting. We’re just ready for this to go back to normal so we can start making some good money again.”
Erin Anderson, the district manager for the Cleveland location of the Melt Bar and Grilled, said business at his restaurant stayed mostly the same, except for slower lunch hours. They’d expected things to be much busier, she added. And Lexi Moran, a server at Slyman’s Tavern, expressed the same sentiment—business didn’t change much, and vastly underperformed expectations. Despite being licensed to stay open until 4 a.m., she added, the bar has been closing at 1 a.m.
And Leonor Garcia, a server at The Black Pig, said the restaurant was quieter than on a typical week.
“There was a lot of hype before the convention about the crowds of people, so I think everybody sort of felt like they should stay home,” she said.
Not everyone had such a bad week, though. Rocco Whalen, the owner of Fahrenheit Restaurant, said his business had “a good uptick.” Scott Bassett, general manager of The Winking Lizard, said it was business as usual except for late-night hours, when more people came in. And George Schindler, who heads the Hospitality Restaurants group that owns several properties in Cleveland, said the RNC made for an “exceptional week.” Out-of-town reporters were particularly open-handed with their business, he said.
One industry that suffered: strip clubs. Multiple staffers at Christie's Cabaret, Diamond Men’s Club, and Crazy Horse told The Daily Beast that business has been slow at best.
“There has been no uptick in business,” said a stripper at Crazy Horse who asked not to be named. “It's been disappointing. We were expecting more Republicans who wanted [lap] dances.”
“It’s been lame,” another remarked.
The sluggish business is particularly disappointing because the local strip joints had been anticipating a boom in patrons this week.
“It’s all hands on deck—we’ve canceled all vacations [for convention week], ordered in extra stock of alcohol, food, everything,” Jeff Kallam, general manager at Crazy Horse, told The Daily Beast earlier this month. “Republicans love strippers, so we’re just hoping to make some money.”
But that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Typically, nominating conventions mean big money for the host city’s strippers. When the GOP held its convention in Tampa, Florida, in 2012, TMZ reported that the local strip-club business was “BOOMING.” (According to one strip-club trade group, Republicans tend to spend three times more than their Democratic counterparts at such establishments.)
That said, Cleveland’s convention week could have been worse—the city’s would-be rioters also failed to live up to expectations.