Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Baltimore's 10 p.m. curfew may be keeping things calm, but it's a tough slog for local workers.
BALTIMORE—Sinai Hospital in Northwest Baltimore received no credible threats in the wake of violent clashes between residents and police on Monday. So there were no National Guard soldiers or armored vehicles stationed out front, like there were at Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore.
But it was far from business as usual at Sinai. Things were too quiet, according to an emergency-room nurse who was preparing for another overnight shift on Wednesday evening.
"Emergency care is primary care for a lot of people in Baltimore," says the nurse, who spoke anonymously because she was not authorized to speak for the hospital. "People who didn't feel like they were in a critical emergency probably didn't come into the hospital last night. But I'm sure there are people who thought, 'I'm in pain, I'm having trouble breathing.' "
Service-industry workers, caretakers, and others on the night shift across Baltimore are still adjusting to an abrupt interruption in their daily—or, rather, nightly—lives. Two days into the seven-day emergency restrictions imposed by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Tuesday, the 10 p.m. curfew has meant inconvenience for all and hardship for some.
"We had a rehearsal dinner scheduled on Friday for 40 people. It's completely canceled," says Tommy Bruce, a host at City Cafe, a popular Mount Vernon restaurant. "The wedding was actually moved out of Baltimore city as a result of the curfew. That was probably $1,000 in revenue that we lost right there."
It's not just Camden Yards that's empty this week. Late-night carryouts and high-octane night clubs are shuttered. The Baltimore Comedy Factory is closed all weekend. The major downtown cineplex at Harbor East isn't scheduling any evening screenings of The Avengers: Age of Ultron over the film's sure-to-be-blockbuster opening weekend.
Venues across town have been forced to shuffle schedules, cancel events, and send staff home.
"Obviously for a small, independently run venue, this is a huge financial blow to us," says Sarah Werner, owner of Metro Gallery, a music venue that was forced to cancel all its shows for the week. "We are trying to add more shows to our May calendar to make up for the lost revenue."
Werner adds, "But we will make it through, and our main concern is that Baltimore gets the healing it so desperately needs."
Merchants in Fells Point and other neighborhoods are debating whether they should adhere to the curfew at all, says Henry Hong, manager at the Thames Street Oyster House. Most restaurants like his own—establishments with liquor licenses to protect—are keeping the mayor's hours. But some business owners in Baltimore have called for openly defying the emergency orders, he says.
"With a curfew, you will do more damage financially to our bars and restaurants than rioters will do," writes Liam Flynn, proprietor of Liam Flynn's Ale House, a Station North tavern not far from the CVS burned on Monday night, in an open letter to the mayor. "We have insurance for vandalism, not loss of revenue."
For Hong's part, the Thames Street Oyster House is stopping its dinner service at 7:30 p.m. While the restaurant could stay open later, Hong says he's concerned that his workers get home on time—no mean feat, given bus-service interruptions and road closures, especially in West Baltimore. Plus the hassle could be a problem for some workers.
"The mayor stated that, if you are stopped in violation of the curfew, you would be required to show an ID and a letter from your employer stating that you are traveling to or from work. I'm sure this is true across the service industry," Hong says, "but some of the staff might not have IDs that they can just pull out, whether it's due to immigration status or other concerns." (Hong notes that the Thames Street Oyster House is extremely strict about hiring only workers who are legally eligible for employment.)
Closing early gives him time to close down the restaurant and board up the windows, as many restaurateurs and retailers are doing. Even this precaution has proven divisive: Some people on a Fells Point merchants' email list called the measure an "eyesore." (Hong says that on Monday night, kids smashed in the windows of Cozy Corner, a Mount Vernon carryout run by his aunt.*)
Shirley Morgan, a baker at Hoehn’s Bakery in East Baltimore, says that none of the bakers who work the graveyard shift have had any trouble yet making it into work at 2:30 a.m. But business isn't as booming as it usually is, she says.
A bartender by the name of Beazly made the same complaint at Brewer's Art, a brewpub in Midtown, right after an early last call of 8:30 p.m. He says he's pulling in about one-fifth of what he usually makes. Over the weekend, that will add up.
"It's Thursday going into a weekend. It's April going into May. And it's the end of the month," says Hong, who has offered to reduce his own salary proportionate to the time he's losing. "Rent is due, and for people in the service industry, this weekend's when you make rent."
The mayor's office said on Wednesday that the administration is open to lifting the curfew early, once it's clear that calm has been restored. That was certainly the case at Wednesday night's rally at the intersection of W. North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, where the CVS was looted and torched on Monday. By 10 p.m., a crowd of dozens to hundreds had almost entirely dispersed, leaving police and reporters to look at one another.
But with a major rally planned for Saturday and the results of a preliminary police investigation into the death of Freddie Gray still unclear, Hong and others aren't sure that Mayor Rawlings-Blake will take that step. Some folks in the service industry are rallying already, organizing early bar crawls to support people who only work nights.
For others, hardship could look more like harm.
"People who come in with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or congestive heat failure? We see them a day too late, they go to the ICU," the nurse at Sinai says. "If we don't see them for three days or four days, it could have a disastrous impact."
*Correction: This post originally misidentified the person who runs the Cozy Corner carryout. It is Henry Hong's aunt, not his mother, who managed the store in the past.