According to code enforcement officer Jim Decker, six of the trusses above the former Mexican market that shares a roof with the ale house were in poor repair on the market’s side.
“The damage next door in the vacant space is significant, enough of a safety hazard to both sides of the building,” Decker said Monday night, as he posted closure signs outside the ale house at 1000 Central Ave. “It’s a danger to have people on both sides of the building.”
City officials uncovered the extensive damage during a recent inspection after they gained access to the ceiling, Decker said.
The building’s owner, Denise Hembree, said Thursday, Nov. 3, that the damage in the wooden trusses was found during work on the ceiling.
“We were doing some repairs, and when we took down the drop ceiling, … when we took those down to put in some new lighting, we noticed there was some damage to a truss,” she said. “That was last Friday.”
Decker said the owner of the building, which once served as a single site for Tredways Stationers and is still structurally one building, now has three options: fix it, board it up, or tear it down.
Hembree said she has consulted a structural engineer and expects a report back sometime soon. She guessed that even in a best-case-scenario, it could take four months before the place is repaired.
“It’s going to take several months,” she said. “Winter could slow things down.”
Dave Helm, who opened Helm’s Ale House two years ago, said he was shocked by the closure, but he agreed with the city’s decision Monday to keep people safe.
“I wish they dealt with this when they knew there was a problem,” Helm said. “We don’t have issues on our side. The building and code enforcement said it’s not safe, and I said, all right, we’re done. We’re out of business, and that’s the way it is.”
“It’s not worth someone getting hurt,” added Helm, who had put up homemade signs warning customers of the closure before the city’s official red tag. “We’re done until we can be assured the building is safe.”
Hembree agreed that the damage must be repaired.
“It needs to be addressed,” the property owner said. “There are cracks on both sides.”
Hembree insisted that she didn’t know there were any safety issues with the trusses until the inspection, though there had been a leak in the roof.
“It’s just an old building,” she said.
But even before Monday’s closure, Helm said, he knew about problems with at least the market side of the building for more than a year. He said city officials told the last person who tried to open a business there a year ago that the business couldn’t stay open because of the numerous structural problems in the space.
On a Sunday night six months ago, Helm said, he smelled tar, and when he went upstairs to check it out, he found two men working on the roof using spotlights at about 8 p.m. He said he told them to get off the roof, because he believed they didn’t have the proper permits and might cause more damage. He said the same thing has happened on two occasions.
On Friday, Oct. 28, Helm said, he noticed two city officials inspecting the market and learned that they were doing a safety inspection and had found the damaged trusses. He said he could see from the window Sunday night that someone had propped up pipes to try to hold the roofing aloft, so he confronted city officials Monday. He said it was then he learned there was enough damage to red tag the building.
Hembree said that, after the inspection, she had someone install temporary supports in the interest of safety.
City Councilman Steve Abercrombie said he heard about the closure of Helm’s while working at City Hall on Monday.
“It’s very disappointing,” Abercrombie said. “It’s the kind of business we want in our downtown area. It brings life to the downtown.”
Abercrombie said the city would work with Helm to try to relocate to another site downtown, but he said it wouldn’t be easy to find a place that was restaurant-ready with a kitchen.
News of the closing was a shock to Helm’s loyal customers.
“I’m very upset,” said Sammi Stauch, who was dining in the restaurant when it closed. “This place has a lot of regulars. This is like the Barista’s of the ale places. Like family … everybody knows everybody. This is just so depressing. I was just in here last night, and everybody was happy.”
City Councilman Robert Rickman was also eating in the ale house with his wife, Karen, and their two daughters at the time of the closing.
“We had just finished ordering and we were told we can finish eating, but then we had to leave,” he said. “I’m surprised. We come here often and enjoy it.”
Helm said his restaurant had been becoming quite successful in the past six months, and he would like to keep it somewhere downtown. Ideally, he said, he would like to stay at the Central Avenue location, but he guessed it could be six months before he could reopen the restaurant.
“It’s beyond my control,” he said. “Nothing I can do. We’re in limbo.”
• Editor Jon Mendelson contributed to this report.