Down and Out in Clifton Heights

Uncle Woody's is about to bite the (saw) dust. The restaurant and bar known to many a University of Cincinnati student -- past and present -- as a place to eat, drink and be merry closed its doors J

Jun 25, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Uncle Woody's is about to bite the (saw) dust. The restaurant and bar known to many a University of Cincinnati student — past and present — as a place to eat, drink and be merry closed its doors June 2.

Owner Buzzy Gaz, 47, says the drifting, sluggish economy is the main culprit that caused him to get behind on paying his state of Ohio sales tax. And when that happens things can get ugly. The state charges 35 percent annual interest in penalty charges, and add in a $3,400 liquor license renewal fee and Gaz owes roughly $50,000 to get the doors back open.

Gaz says he blames himself, but thinks mostly he was a victim of circumstance. Even chain eateries Chipotle and Potbelly, among others that opened in the few block vicinity of his Calhoun Street establishment, have cut into his food business. He thought the buyout-and-tear-down of the strip between Calhoun and McMillan streets, once littered with Taco Bell, Hardee's, Boston Chicken, Arby's and others, might have been a boon for him. It just didn't turn out that way, he says.

"And you have a shitty economy thrown in there," Gaz says.

"It's not an easy business."

Even students feel the crunch when energy prices reach record highs. Their solution? Eating in and buying carry-out beer to get lit on a weekend night, then going out late to tear up the town.

"There is no business because energy is up, fuel is up ... cost of living is up," he says. "Don't call it that. Call is 'cost of surviving.' "

Gaz knows when a business starts to claim hardships there is generally more to the story.

"I wish I could claim I was a crack addict or something," he says. "But I haven't paid myself since last July."

Gaz — if you don't know him through Uncle Woody's you might know him as one of the lead organizers of the annual Panegyri Greek Festival in Finneytown, which takes place this weekend — bought the Clifton establishment when he was 28 years old and has run it the last 19 years. He shut down just after the bar, which opened in May 1974, celebrated its 34th year in business.

When he didn't have enough money to keep the Ohio Division of Liquor Control at bay, they yanked his ability to serve alcohol. He tried doing just food only, but it wasn't cost effective.

Gaz is not the only one feeling the effects of navigating an economy so unstable that stock prices fall, the U.S. dollar is the weakest it has been in more than a decade and barrels of oil — which indirectly affect so many parts of the economy through the delivery of goods and services — are also at record highs.

Feeling stuck and completely out of control is the best way I can think to describe it. Most likely you're reading this and thinking the same thing. So far, gas prices have not directly changed my life in dramatically. What cost $10 years ago — namely, filling up my gas tank — now costs $60 and is bound to go up even further until market forces cause a leveling out, economists have said. How high it will go is anybody's guess. $10 a gallon? $15 a gallon? Lower? Higher?

Listening to pundits of all stripes leaves few questions answered. Frankly, I would like to blame President Bush for the mess, but I keep hearing it's not his fault. It's not Congress' fault, nor the oil companies, the car manufacturers, the farmers who now grow crops for biofuels or even me or my family members who drive vehicles that get less than 10 miles per gallon.

Meanwhile, the world goes on and places like Uncle Woody's, Kaldi's (as I wrote about in last week's column) and Enzo's coffee shop in Over-the-Rhine struggle to find customers to indulge in a luxury that could otherwise be spent packing lunch, brewing your own coffee or (gasp!) eating at home. Many businesses have closed, some will find a way to stay open through raising fees (airlines) and I fear we are just seeing the beginning.

If Uncle Woody's does close, what will be affected next? Your favorite bar, store or ability to do something you were able to do just a few years ago? When do we start to care?

By the way, the owners of Enzo's have told me they hope to be able to re-open within two to three weeks. Good news — if you can get there.

Contact Joe Wessels: [email protected]