Northside is one of the area’s coolest bars.
It might also be the oldest, having operated continuously as a tavern since the Burkhardt Brewery built it in 1914.
Although outdoor bashes such as Rockin’ on the River and Lock 3 tend to push Northside to the edge of the concert-going radar screen during the summer, for much of the year the long, skinny nightclub is the place to go for live music, particularly blues, jazz and rock.
But in the eyes of Ohio Edison, the joint ain’t jumpin’.
Big utility companies rarely have thriving fan clubs. Most people don’t even notice them until something goes wrong: Your power goes out. Your trees get hacked back. Your yard gets dug up.
There’s only so much a utility can control, and sometimes being unpopular is just the nature of the beast.
But sometimes it’s more than that.
Sometimes the workers screw up, through sloth or ineptitude or both. And when they do, you expect the company to quickly make amends.
Northside owners Dave and Linda VonAllmen aren’t feeling the love.
During the spring, they were told three transformers would have to be replaced behind their bar, which is in the same block as Luigi’s, on the edge of the valley between Akron and North Hill.
The power would be turned off, Edison said, but not to worry: We’ll give you plenty of advance notice.
The VonAllmens were told the changeover would take place May 21, a Monday. They also were told Edison would contact them before the work began.
Well, surprise, surprise: The changeover took place May 18, a Friday morning. A cleaning person and a delivery person were inside when the power came back on, so both were privy to a miniature fireworks display.
Because the owners hadn’t gotten the advance warning they were promised, they didn’t unplug anything. Not their point-of-sale system. Not their credit-card system. Not their wi-fi. Not their air conditioning. Not their deep fryers.
When workers restored the power, it spiked, and much of what had been plugged in was suddenly toast.
The biggest loss was the point-of-sale system. These days, a POS system goes for about $14,000. Although their existing system was ancient, it was still functioning. Now it isn’t, and it can’t be repaired because it’s obsolete. Their only choice is to buy a new one.
The power company admitted it goofed, but said to Dave, “Just turn it over to your insurance company and we’ll fight it out with them.”
He replied, “No! It’s not the insurance company’s responsibility. First of all, you guys screwed it up. If I bring in my insurance company, my rates will go up.”
After some back and forth, Ohio Edison offered a $1,500 settlement, the amount they believed was Northside’s insurance deductible.
“This is our last and best offer,” said the letter of July 12. “Enclosed you will find a release ... in full settlement of the damage to your property on May 18 by our company. ...
“We regret any inconvenience that may have been caused and thank you for your cooperation in this matter.”
Except the VonAllmens had no intention of cooperating, given what they considered an insulting offer. They say they will have to spend about $20,000 just to get their operation back to where it was May 17.
Never mind the money they have been losing because their point-of-sale system now consists of 3- by 5-inch spiral notebooks. On busy nights, they don’t even open the kitchen because they can’t keep track of everything.
One recent Saturday night ,when they were “really, really busy,” says Dave, “we probably had 60 to 70 tabs going just at the bar. And that’s not counting the two servers.
“Everything is written by hand. It’s pretty crazy.”
The VonAllmens are not flush with cash, especially during the summer. Before they bought the place three years ago, Linda was a homemaker and Dave was director of operations for Alltel in Twinsburg.
When Verizon bought out Alltel, he was offered a job as a night-shift manager in Texas, an offer he found extremely easy to refuse.
On a warm afternoon last week, the couple is sitting at the bar, rehashing the situation for a visitor. He is wearing a multicolor shirt covered with scenes of cars and drive-in movie theaters. She is wearing a black T-shirt with “Yuengling 1829” on the front. Both are wearing looks of weary dismay.
“I’m not asking for the world,” Linda says. “I’m really not. All I wanted was to be put back to the way it was before this happened.”
Seems like a reasonable request, given the circumstances. But not to Ohio Edison.
Spokesman Mark Durbin admits the company caused the damage, but says expecting Ohio Edison to replace the VonAllmen’s old equipment is unreasonable.
He says the life expectancy of a POS system is about 12 years, and theirs was at least 18.
“We were wrong to do the work without notifying somebody,” he says. “That’s why we’re paying the claim in the first place. … But whenever we do pay a claim, it’s not what the replacement value is; it is what the cash value of the equipment is.”
Hardly seems fair. Yes, their system was old, but it was working. And it would likely still be working if Ohio Edison hadn’t blown up the place.
“We understand that,” Durbin responds. “But we’re also not going to have a blank checkbook for something that’s worth that kind of money.”
Well, there you have it. The VonAllmens believe Edison should replace what it broke. Edison believes the VonAllmens needed to update their equipment.
Interesting difference in philosophies.
Any wagers on which one will carry the day?
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.