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Are Dive Bars Good for Downtown Margate? by:

Described by Playboy Magazine as “a church for down-and-outers and those who romanticize them,” a dive bar is a “rare place where high and low rub elbows—bums and poets, thieves and slumming celebrities.”

Less romantic than the Playboy epithet, dive bars in Margate largely serve the all-day drinking set. Among them the unemployed, underemployed and gainfully employed who enjoy libations after a long (or short) day at work; first, second or third shift. Margate dive bars typically cater to smokers and don’t specialize in food. Fashion is often void and smart conversation isolated to a few.

Putting the pressure on one downtown dive bar to get out, the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency hasterminated a 30-day lease with six-year tenant “Mugshots” at 1049 State Road 7 in the Chevy Chase Plaza. The Agency has given the tenant to September 30, 2013 to vacate the premises.

Although owner of the bar, Virgil’s Ventures LLC, has faithfully paid the lease six years running, monthly rent payments are consistently late, said Margate Vice Mayor, Le Peerman, who said she is tired of the tenant “gaming the system” and wants the lease terminated. To consistently allow late payments compromises Agency management and sends the wrong message to tenants that pay on time.

“I personally think we should send them a letter and say ‘Hasta la bye bye,’” [sic] Peerman said at the July CRA meeting.

Peerman said every month for years, Mugshots, formerly Dave McLean's Ale House Rock, has paid its rent late and not always in full. She used July’s payment of $15.25 on a required $2,900 as an example.

“This is not late payments. This is not the guy [sic] can’t make his rent. This is a tenant that is abusing the system,” Peerman said.

Though Mugshots violates no CRA policies in paying its rent late, the Agency considers the bar a thorn in the side of community redevelopment. Grappling between a tenant that pays late - but nonetheless pays - and one where he’s witnessed people sleeping out front during the day, newly appointed Margate Commissioner, Brian Donahue, questioned whether Mugshots is good for the CRA’s image.

“The purpose of a CRA is to eliminate blight and create spaces where people want to come. Vagrants living on the sidewalk are contrary to what CRAs are about,” he said.

Margate resident, Anthony Caggiano, speaking as a landlord, said if it’s about the money, then late rent is better than no rent, but “If you don’t think the business is helping the City, of course you have to get rid of it,” he told Commissioners. “But you also have to think of it in terms of $2,800. Do you want the business there or do you want them gone?”

Hired to assume management of the bar since January, Bill McDonald, told commissioners he has cleaned up and improved the property and has invested his own money into the business. Though wasn’t specific about his arrangement with Virgil’s Ventures, he said he handles all the bars finances and has been giving the rent money to the company to pay on time each month.

"The rent does get paid. It comes out of my pocket. It doesn’t make it to the City. It goes to Virgil’s Ventures and it doesn’t make it here,” he said.

When asked by Commissioner Tommy Ruzzano if he received rent payments from McDonald, owner of the LLC, Virgil Willis, said he gets money each month regarding the purchase of his business, but doesn’t receive rent per se. He said the arrangement is personal business that could have been handled differently.

In response to Peerman’s comments about “gaming the system,” Willis said it isn’t a matter of sitting on the money or playing a game, but about keeping his doors open while paying his bills and meeting his priorities.

“I feel bad that you feel I’m not a viable business. I’m doing the best I can with what I have to work with,” he said.

Having spoken with Willis numerous times regarding tenant issues, City Manager, Jerry Blough, said on one hand a business that pays its rent late - but always pays - isn’t a horrible thing, but another perspective is to ask whether the business is “good for the community, good for the shopping center and does it help us bring in more people or does it deter us?” he said.

Commissioner Joanne Simone said she didn’t think Willis was serious about his business.

“If he’s serious about paying - and already half the month is over and he’s only paid $15. That doesn’t tell me he’s serious,” she said.

Margate resident, Rich Popovic told CRA landlords that they were acting absurdly.

“You’ll be the only strip mall in Margate that is kicking tenants out,” he said.

With the termination of lease letter now served on Virgil’s Ventures, McDonald said he hopes the CRA will provide him with a lease - and one better than 30 days. He has no problem paying his rent on time, he told, and has plans to upgrade the establishment and move forward with a name change. He said he has improved the clientele significantly in recent months and business is good. Mugshots offers happy hour pricing, live music, karaoke and bar food such as personal pizzas, wings, pretzels and fries.

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