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Guest Column: Bar Wars? The saga continues–Thoughts from the condemned

June 30, 2010

Editor’s note: The following is in response to the June 23-29 article “Bar Wars—Establishments accused by peers of being counterproductive to downtown efforts.”

By Dennis Clement

Thanks to Editor & Publisher Frank Schier for this opportunity, and very special thanks to [Staff Writer] Stuart [Wahlin] for your honesty and integrity in reporting my conversations with you. Also, thanks, Mike Leifheit, for your insight and support.

It is not typical of me to respond to the recent attacks directed against Bar 3 and my wife and me personally. I have always felt matters like this are best left alone, to exist or fail on their own merits. I will not waste time defending myself against any of these allegations, but would prefer to let the readers draw their own conclusions. If you look in the right places, the answers are obvious.

I have been in business on East State Street first as the Surf Lounge, and more recently as Bar 3 for the past 22 years. Not only does that seem to run counter to the theory of “Quick Buck Artist” but also more importantly, my presence there has left a trail, a matter of public record. That record does not support the allegations that have been made against me. The events of last Saturday night [June 19] that so upset and disrupted the business owners was equally shocking and upsetting to us. Not wanting to be connected in any way to what was happening on the street, I chose to cancel the remainder of our night and close Bar 3. We were completely empty and locked up before 12:30 a.m. The decision to possibly have to close the bar had been discussed long before Saturday night. This was the result of a phone call I received a couple of weeks earlier, giving me a “heads up” that things were about to change on East State Street, things that would have a negative impact on all of us. Anything I could have said would have been dismissed as self-serving, so I held my breath…

If you want to clarify what happened Saturday night, start with the event at the Coronado Theatre, “Black Comedy Night.” Find out who promoted that event. There was an after-party announced, with the suggestion that “you could come meet the comedians.” That party was also planned as part of the comedy night promotion. Does anyone want to say where the after-party took place? [Editor’s note: That place would be the Red Lion.] There is a lot more to this than meets the eye!

I came to Rockford in the early ’60s and have always lived within half a mile of downtown. I have spent my life designing, building, restoring and replicating historic buildings, and have spent many years trying to transform the dream of a vital, healthy and alive downtown into a reality…long before it was popular or fashionable, and for many years when the only thing on Rockford’s mind was a flight to the cornfields and a safe suburban lifestyle.

Downtown has enough problems to overcome without having to deal with self-serving and destructive competition amongst ourselves. Our competition is not here; it comes from other places that would take or keep potential business opportunities away from us. Infighting here only weakens all of us. And yes! I want the same things Paul [Sletten, Social Urban Bar & Restaurant], Chris [Wachowiak, Kryptonite], and all of the other downtown business owners want.

You can’t possibly know what Bar 3 is all about when you limit your knowledge of us to random glances as you drive or walk past my establishment, and you will never see the truth through propagating random gossip, attitudes, prejudice and innuendo regarding us.

As for downtown, I believe it is our best-kept secret and remains our brightest but most overlooked asset. Personally speaking, my guiding belief is that there is little to be gained in the pursuit of negatives. Raising my children has taught me the best course is to never condemn or be  critical, but to see the good and positive aspects of a situation and use that as the road map to a better future. Last week, I met with Mayor Morrissey to discuss what progress had been made to address the practice of towing cars from unused and virtually empty private parking lots downtown, a practice that sends the wrong message from an area wanting to embrace new business.

I also shared my thoughts with the mayor regarding the new festival ordinance allowing for regular street closings on South Main Street and North Water Street for mini street festivals and the new Rockford Market. I think it is a good idea, but perhaps could be better implemented and better exploited for the overall benefit of all downtown-area businesses. Consider this possibility: Block 5 already closes East State Street for its festival. Chris at Kryptonite has his own festival area at his doorstep. Make the same available for block 3 and look to see what other downtown locations would make sense to be included in a new series of “Groove Walk”-type summer parties, which would breathe new life into downtown in a really meaningful way, while bringing us all together. Why settle for 400 or 500 nightly visitors to downtown, when by working together we can have thousands.

Dennis Clement is the owner of Bar 3.

From the June 30-July 6, 2010 issue

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