William Wright doesn‘t remember the exact moment he made the decision that would change his life’s trajectory.
It could’ve been when business at his Bistro 27 tumbled to an all-time low as COVID-19 forced us to hunker down at home. Or when his landlord announced that rent on the property at West Broad and Adams streets was going up 25%. Or maybe when bands of demonstrators marched down Broad Street, breaking windows and vandalizing properties, including the bistro’s.
But now, one of the first businesses to stake a claim in the newly revitalized arts corridor in 2005, Bistro 27 is closing its doors.
When it first opened, people from all over the Richmond metro area were drawn downtown by the mix of galleries, restaurants and boutiques. The area, once known as Crack Alley, was vibrant with the bustle of foot traffic. There have been challenges, too. Profits in the arts district all but disappeared when the construction of new bus lanes made it nearly impossible to access most of the storefronts. Recovery was slow but steady and Bistro 27 came through the disruption. Now the pandemic and social unrest have undone much of the area’s progress, Wright says, and he just isn’t willing to continue the fight to survive.
He feels his situation was more dire than neighboring businesses. Large or small, all have been dealing with shrinking profits due to quarantine and with the disruptions from social unrest. But Wright doesn’t know of any other businesses facing the drastic rent hike. “It’s just not feasible to be open at this time,” he says.
He estimates that between April and June, “we lost $375,000 in income due to cancellations of booked events.” Wright says it was the confluence all three factors that led him to redirect the restaurant’s future. “It was that perfect storm,” he says. “The worst was that we could no longer guarantee patrons’ safety.”
Bistro 27’s pending departure has spurred a low buzz of speculation among business owners in the arts district: How, and when, will they recover? For some, closing or moving are not options. One business owner, Wright says, ‘is considering leaving but has another 1.5 years on the lease.” Not unlike the rest of the country, some have closed temporarily while others have tightened hours of operation. Wright is waving the white flag of surrender.
Despite three decades in the restaurant business, Wright has no sentimental twinges about giving it all up. “My future? I will just retire,” he says.
And it will be a quiet departure … no last party, no sentimental send-off.
‘Friends say I should do something,’’ he says. “I just want to close and be out of here.”
The restaurant’s last day of service will be Saturday, Oct. 10.