MODESTO — Downtown Modesto now has a graveyard mourning businesses that have shut their doors in recent years. The cemetery of nearly two-dozen styrofoam headstones takes up part of Modestos Tenth Street Plaza, and each black-painted headstone bears the name of a business.
Kimberly Humke, a server and bartender at Vitos Ristorante, organized the display. It went up Tuesday and will come down Thursday. The display also is a show of support for one business thats not in the graveyard: the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge.
Humke said the display is meant to help her friend, Fat Cat general manager Chris Ricci, in his dispute with the citys entertainment commission. Ricci helped Humke get the permit for the display and helped put up the headstones.
Ricci will appear before the commission Thursday for a permit that would allow the Fat Cat to hold concerts and other events for patrons of all ages, provided the nightclub receives police permission first. Ricci had objected to that condition because he said the police denied his request to hold an all-ages event this month.
But after meeting with Police Chief Galen Carroll on Tuesday afternoon, Ricci said he now believes he will be able to hold all-age events that meet with police approval. Ricci said alcohol would not be served at the events.
Ricci said the Fat Cat is trying to change its business model to keep pace with new economic realities. He said its no longer profitable to cater only to customers who are 21 and older. He said too many of them remain unemployed or underemployed and dont have money for concerts.
He said crowds at the Fat Cat are down by about half from what they were a few years ago, and patrons buy far fewer drinks. He said the Fat Cat has two all-age shows booked in December and one in January. He expects crowds of 300 to 500 patrons for each concert.
Carroll said he is reviewing the Fat Cats proposal.
He said in general he is not comfortable with all-age events at venues that are near bars, such as in downtown. For instance, Carroll said, he is concerned about teens leaving concerts and mixing with adults leaving bars on downtown streets and in downtown parking garages. He said Modesto has had problems with underage drinking, fights and sexual assaults with previous all-age shows and concerts.
My concern is how we keep downtown safe, Carroll said.
However, he said, there may be circumstances under which all-age concerts and shows can work if there is sufficient security at the venue, alcohol is not served, and the event ends and the patrons leave well before nearby bars and nightclubs close.
The headstones list the names of 23 downtown businesses that have closed, from the H Street Save Mart and the Tenth Street Plaza Starbucks to Extreme Pizza and Banana Joes.
Humke hopes the cemetery will start a conversation about downtown among city officials, the police, downtown merchants and their customers, and others interested in a safe, vibrant city center.
But city officials are focused on helping downtown and have weighed such proposals as incentives for businesses that locate or expand downtown. The city recently opened Tenth Street Plaza to cars for the first time in an effort to bring more customers to plaza businesses.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.