Nov. 16 2011 12:00 AM

Some business owners say the downtown bar crowd is out of control: ‘It’s just kind of a zoo down here’


Early last Thursday, local event promoter and hip-hop fan
Ygnacio “Notch” Bermudez, 35, was shot to death outside The Loft, a
live music venue and bar at 414 E. Michigan Ave. The murder is the
latest — and most alarming — development in a series of incidents that
have frustrated and infuriated some local business owners.

Dorothy Surato, an employee at City Salon, which
neighbors The Loft, said obviously the recent murder isn’t commonplace,
and that typically the young crowd drawn to The Loft’s rock and rap
shows causes no major problems. “We get graffiti in our doorway, vomit
on our doorstep, our doorway is always full of cigarette butts in the
morning,” Surato said. “But I can’t run-down the landlord because an
alcohol establishment would be much more profitable where we are

Mindy Biladeau, executive director at Downtown Lansing
Inc., said that when a city has a vibrant downtown nightlife, with
swarms of people heading to bars and restaurants, the city is “bound to
have a few unfortunate incidences when alcohol is involved.” She said
these are common occurrences in other, comparably sized cities. 

“We’re an urban area in a big urban city and, in the
grand scheme of things and comparing it to other cities throughout the
state and the country, everyone has to deal with these things,”
Biladeau said. “It happens everywhere. It’s not just downtown Lansing.
It’s not like we or the police have noticed a spike in anything
unusual. There’s nothing like that going on.”

Some business operators aren’t as forgiving. 

Cher Kiesel, co-owner of Spotted Dog Café, 221 S.
Washington Square, said she’s been downtown for 15 years and feels
there is a definite increase in raucous, after-hours behavior. She had
a window broken at her café on Oct. 28.

“There’s more fighting outside the bars,” Kiesel said. “I
think it’s when people are ejected from the bars or they leave. They’re
out in the street and they’re shouting and screaming obscenities and
it’s just kind of a zoo down here. I am concerned about it.”

Kiesel said she doesn’t feel a rowdy bar scene is the
definition of a “vibrant nightlife.” She said she hopes to get some
local support.

“We would all like to see a little more of a response
from our business association (Downtown Lansing Inc.) and maybe the
city,” Kiesel said. “I feel like if there’s not enough money for police
then there needs to be some pressure put on these bars to police
themselves. It wouldn’t cost them that much to have a couple of
security guards walk up and down the street between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
on weekends, to keep people moving and away from other people’s

On weekends, after midnight, Jessica Decker avoids walking down the brightly lit sidewalks of Washington Square at all costs. 

At those hours Decker’s preferred route to her downtown
apartment is down a dark alley. She’s dodging the intoxicated clubbers
who are entering and exiting area hot spots. 

“I walk back home through the dark alley because it’s
safer,” said Decker, 29, who has owned Decker’s Coffee Co. on
Washington Square for four and a half years. Since then she claims to
have replaced five broken windows; she thinks it’s due to the amount of
drunk, sometimes hostile, people leaving nearby dance clubs. 

“There are fights and vandalism,” Decker said.
“Businesses patios get messed up from fights, windows get broken,
there’s throw-up everywhere, there’s broken glass, people get drunk.
There’s just not enough security out on the street.”

This is a much different atmosphere from the weekday
daylight hours on Washington Square. In comparison to past years, the
stretch is currently booming. 

“During the day it’s great — it’s quiet and it’s clean,”
Decker said. “And business is great. We’ve steadily grown each year
we’ve been here. But having to clean up puke at 7 in the morning is not
fun. It’s just discouraging, it gets old. It’s like, ‘Really? This is
happening again? Every weekend?’”

Decker said she fully supports local bars; she was a
bartender herself for seven years. However, she said the nightclubs
should start paying for additional outdoor security on Washington

“The police have been great. I don’t feel a lack of
police is the problem,” Decker said. “I think the problem is the bars
are overserving — that’s the problem. People need to be cut off. One of
my solutions is to ticket these bars for overserving.” 

Jerome Abood, owner of Wild Beaver Saloon, 205 S.
Washington Square, said he is willing to work with the community to fix
this problem, which he said is sometimes out of his hands.

“I’m all for a concerted effort by everybody to come in
and fix the problems occurring out in the street,” Abood said.
“Unfortunately for us as a city, budget cuts made it impossible for us
to have the quality police force we had down here. I don’t think
they’re doing a bad job now. I just think it was healthier when the 40
or 50 officers they had to cut were more available in evenings. The
presence alone makes a big difference.”

Abood said the notion of overserving for profit, or lack
of care, is an “ignorant notion.” He said what people do before or
after entering a bar isn’t always under his control. 

“I think we have something going on in the street that’s
falling into a grey area,” Abood said. “That doesn’t mean one bar owner
isn’t holding their own. There’s only so many things a bar owner can

“I have no interest in overserving. I make no money in
overserving somebody. I have no interest in somebody becoming violent
or becoming sick. I like people to come in and have fun, get in a cab
and go home.”

As for the broken windows, fighting and other
disturbances, Lt. Noel Garcia of the Lansing Police Department said
officers attend frequent meetings with Lansing Downtown Inc. and area
bar owners in an effort to prevent such occurrences. 

“We’ve had some reports of fights: I can’t give you a
specific number — we’d have to do a data analysis on that,” Garcia
said. “But we have had fights reported down in the downtown area.
That’s all part of what could be a result of excessive drinking and
that’s why we have those quarterly meetings with the bar owners.”

Garcia said the LPD does patrol downtown accordingly;
however, he said, club owners should also be taking responsibility for
their patrons.

“It can’t be something that the police department has
sole responsibility for,” Garcia said. “We work with them on that. We
talk with them about that at these meetings that we have with them
regularly. It’s nothing that they should be surprised about. If they’re
having a large event, for example, we ask them questions about what
kind of security they’re having for that. 

“They can’t expect the Lansing Police Department to be
their security for these types of special events, and we’ve never given
them the impression that we will be,” he added.

Even with the scuffles and vandalism, Abood said the growing nightlife prevails over what used to be a ghost town. 

“Remember, it wasn’t that long ago when nobody would come
down Michigan Avenue,” Abood said. “You got the city pulling in all
these forces, which include the baseball stadium, the state police and
all these projects. You got to have a mix to make a city work. You have
to have housing, nightlife, food, entertainment options, as well as a
place to work and shop — a lifestyle. When you look at that, I think
Lansing has come a long way.”