Belltower businesses suffer after roof collapse
Building deemed safe and open, but business owners worry customers will stay away
Businesses in Belltower Plaza are fully operating again after last week’s roof collapse, and want wary customers to know the building is safe for them to return.
Part of the Metacom Avenue plaza’s roof caved in during the winter storm last Tuesday evening. The roof collapsed into a former karate studio which had recently moved to Gooding Plaza across town. It is the second time in as many years part of the Belltower roof has collapsed, to the frustration of business owners who are forced to absorb hefty losses.
The losses are especially hard to bear for small businesses that depend on walk-in customers, such as Hair Experts salon, Green Eggs breakfast restaurant and Nello’s Pizza, all of which suffered several days of lost business.
Green Eggs owner Tina Flowers estimates she lost more than $3,000 after having to close her doors Thursday and Friday due to the collapse (the restaurant is open for breakfast every day but Wednesday). In addition to customers, she lost food that had been prepped for the week, and salaries that were paid to employees who worked Friday to prep for the weekend without any income being generated. Even after opening Saturday, the losses kept piling up.
“On Saturday and Sunday, we did half the business we usually do,” said Ms. Flowers, who has owned the restaurant for 10 months. “It just keeps going and going. We finally got the business really moving on the weekends, and now we have to start over.”
Ms. Flowers, who has been complaining of a leak in her roof since she bought the business, was planning on closing for a couple days for a personal medical issue in May, but may be rethinking those plans.
“If I close down again, customers won’t come back,” she said.
Not only did the Belltower businesses have to close for a couple days after the Bristol Building Department roped off the plaza last Tuesday, they are now faced with the prospect of luring back customers they worry are afraid to enter a building with a roof that has collapsed twice.
“I don’t know if this is going to scare more people off. We do a lot of walk-ins. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were so slow,” said Bella Goncalo, owner of Hair Experts, who said the business had its own inspection to ensure the building is safe for customers. “I’m not concerned at all. We had an engineer come in and inspect the roof. Mine is safe. They were very thorough with the inspections.”
Co-owner Joe Goncalo said the business lost more than $4,000 because of the collapse, and the customers have not yet come back at the same they were before.
“When it’s your only source of income, it’s a problem,” Mr. Goncalo said, adding he hopes customers understand the building is sound. “They wouldn’t let us reopen if it wasn’t safe.”
Nello’s Pizza similarly lost money during the closure, and said he has lost more as Bellower Acquisitions, which owns the property and most of the units, has refused to give him a long-term lease and increased his rent.
“After 15 years here, they kick me out,” Mr. Nello said. “They won’t renew my lease. I’m not going to stay here month-to-month and put money in their pockets. I’m out of here next year.”
Belltower Plaza is set up as a business condominium community, with some individual units owned by the businesses they house. Belltower Acquisitions owns 15 of the 21 units, eight of which are vacant and two of which will be vacant within a couple months. The number of vacancies has led some in the plaza to question the future of the plaza, and whether the company is interested in luring a big box store to the area. Greg Salvatore, of Salvatore Capital Partners, a property management company that represents Belltower Acquisitions, said the company wants to fill those storefronts.
“With it being a condominium, it would be difficult to do anything else,” Mr. Salvatore said. “We are actively seeking new tenants.”
Mr. Salvatore said engineers have inspected the building, and the company is working with the town Building Department to determine the exact cause of the collapse and ensure safety of the businesses and their customers. Bristol Building Official Richard Pimento did not immediately return calls for comment.
“There were no other areas (of the roof) that showed signs of fatigue,” Mr. Salvatore said.
Still, some businesses and their employees remain nervous.
“I’m scared, literally scared,” said Gail DeVine, who works at Green Eggs and whose husband owns DeVine & Associates, the roof of which caved in during the plaza’s 2015 collapse. “Thank god his contractor put a beam up under the air conditioning unit. If not, he would have died. I got a lot of flashbacks (last week). It really took me back.”