CC's departure creates void for Almont youths
Cyber café closes, moves to Oxford
|When the owners of CC’s Cyber Cafe in downtown Almont recently closed their doors, it created a void for the many young people who regularly frequented the establishment. photo by Tom Wearing.|
October 17, 2007ALMONT — The recent move of CC's Cyber Café from its location at 102 S. Main St. to Oxford leaves a void in the heart of the village's downtown business district.
The café's departure is probably felt most by the many teens who frequented the establishment on a regular basis—and by their parents.
Dawn Varner, whose 16-year-old son could often be found hanging out at the cyber café in the early evenings, believes CC's offered teens not inclined to participate in school-related sports or other activities, a place to gather and socialize.
"I think it was a meeting place to a lot of the kids," said Varner, an Almont resident for eight years. "Unless you're on a sports team, there isn't a lot in this town for our kids to get into—except maybe some trouble at the park. With all the empty buildings in town, why not open a teen center?"
CC's owner Brian Lawlor, who operates similar businesses in Marlette and Caro, moved into the Almont location in the spring of 2005.
The corner building had been vacant for about a year, having previously been occupied by Mad Dog Tattooz. Under pressure from some elements of the community, the tattoo parlor moved to another location on Van Dyke and has since closed.
The now-empty building is one of five in the downtown district owned and leased by businessman Marty Clauw. Three of those buildings are now unoccupied.
Lawlor attributes the recent move to several factors, not the least of which was a significant downturn in business during the summer months.
"It was a combination of things," says Lawlor. "The business in Almont just died. All of our profits at the new (Oxford) location had to be used to keep Almont going. It just got to the point where it didn't make any sense to keep doing it."
In an effort to salvage the Almont location, Lawlor tried to renegotiate his lease arrangement with Clauw, an option rejected by the building owner.
Lawlor cites other factors for leaving, including pressure from local police and resistance and lack of support from segments of the community.
"The police began dogging us because kids were hanging out in the public parking lot behind the building," he says. "They said the kids were dumping trash out there. We always tried to manage things like that, but that is not our lot.
"Then they began complaining about the kids' bikes being parked in front of the building, or that they were sitting on the bench," Lawlor adds. "There seems to be an adversarial relationship between the police and the youth in the community."
Lawlor has not encountered similar problems in Oxford. To the contrary, he says the community has welcomed his business and its young customers with open arms.
"We feel that we are welcome here," he says, noting the community's positive response to the new store. "The DDA and chamber of commerce come in and meet here, and everyone is excited that we're here.
"We didn't feel that support in Almont," Lawlor laments, "not from the officials, the police or the town. Nobody ever stopped in to see what we were about."
Village Manager Gerald Oakes disputes the claim that police applied pressure to the business owner, suggesting that the village and officers were only responding to complaints from citizens.
"There was no pressure," says Oakes. "We were getting complaints about kids leaving trash out there and damaging cars. We did ask our police to let him (Lawlor) know about that and try to do something. That's not an unreasonable request.
"There may not have been support in terms of customers," Oakes adds, "but the village government was very supportive of them."
Varner believes that regardless of what business is operating in the downtown area, community members seem to offer lukewarm support.
"This is a bedroom community," she says. "Our residents tend not to shop here. People don't frequent the local businesses -- except maybe the bars."
Now that CC's has pulled up its roots, Lawlor says his biggest regret is that the young people who regularly patronized the business no longer have a safe and convenient place to meet and socialize downtown.
"The hardest thing is that we had to leave all those good kids over there," he says. "That's what we miss."
Regardless of the reasons for CC's departure, Almont DDA Director Nancy Boxey views the absence of the business as a loss to the downtown district.
"Economically, having any business leave the downtown district is a loss," says Boxey. "In this case, the Lawlors had been very active in the community. We're sad to see them go."