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November 25, 2013

License request highlights Barnes & Noble’s future

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

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Barnes & Noble stands at the corner of Fifth and Main streets in downtown Royal Oak. Its future at the location came into question when its property owner and restaurateurs applied for, and then withdrew, a liquor license transfer for an Italian eatery at the site.

ROYAL OAK — Despite applicants withdrawing their request for a liquor license just before the Nov. 18 City Commission meeting and the public hearing for it being canceled, the issue still put light on the future of downtown Royal Oak’s Barnes & Noble.

According to the license request, the applicant, SV One Incorporated and Royal Oak Partners LLC, intended to open an Italian eatery at 500 Main St. — the current site of Barnes & Noble.

The company had also applied for a dancing and entertainment permit for the location.

Tim Blum, the owner of Royal Oak Partners and the owner of the building where the downtown bookstore is located, also planned to split the second floor, also occupied by Barnes & Noble, into office space, according to the application.

Blum said during the commission meeting that Barnes & Noble’s sales have not supported the rent.

Barnes & Noble, in a statement, said it has no intention of leaving Royal Oak.

“We have a lease through January 2015 and have no plans to close the store,” said David Deason, Vice President, Development, at Barnes & Noble, in a statement to the Review.

Blum said the company had been unable to pay the rent they had initially agreed to, and more than a year ago, he cut rent for the space in half.

His hopes were that with the close of Borders — a national book retailer that went out of business in 2011 — Barnes & Noble would increase its sales volume.

“I hoped they’d make money by now, but I’m not,” Blum said. “And I can’t keep subsidizing that space forever.”

He said that he had no intention of evicting Barnes & Noble, but he concluded his comments by saying, “The reality is the sales just aren’t there.”

In addition to shedding light on the future of the bookstore, the issue also created much debate during the public discussion portion of the meeting on the installation of another establishment serving alcohol where four other bars and nightclubs are currently located.

Residents living nearby the bookstore opposed the potential installation of another drinking establishment. One downtown resident compared his block to “West Side Story.”

“On some nights, I’ve looked out there and I’ve seen ‘West Side Story’ with the Jets and Sharks throwing down in the middle of the street,” said resident Matt Riley.

He invited commission members to his apartment to watch what happens near closing time for the bars and restaurants.

“We specifically don’t need another bar in the location of Barnes & Noble — a thriving business that wants to stay there,” he said.

Another resident called for a moratorium on issuing liquor licenses near Fifth and Main streets.

“There’s four liquor licenses in a two-block area,” said resident Ralph Wehrung. “That’s enough”

The Police Department also was opposed to the liquor license transfer.

According to a memo from Lt. Mike Frazier attached to the license request, the business partners who intended to operate the business have had several criminal incidents reported at their other establishments in Novi; Windsor, Ontario; and London, Ontario.

Frazier wrote that the applicants “have a history of being unable to properly control the activity at their establishment.”

The Police Department also noted the number of similar nearby establishments.

“So many large venues in close proximity will likely cause significant strain to police resources,” Frazier wrote.

A phone call to Kelly Allen, the attorney representing SV One, for comment was not returned as of print time, and attempts to reach Blum for comment on the future of the project were not successful.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.