Dinkytown businesses feel impact of reduced traffic at Varsity Theater

The venue hasn’t held a show open to the public since December of 2016.

The exterior of Varsity Theater in Dinkytown on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

Meagan Lynch

The exterior of Varsity Theater in Dinkytown on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

Bella Dally-Steele

Some Dinkytown restaurants are missing the late-night crowds that came from from Varsity Theater concerts.

In the months since its last open-to-the-public show in December 2016, nearby restaurants say they miss the crowds the theater brought. The venue stopped hosting high-profile concerts after four lawsuits were filed against owner Jason McLean for alleged child sexual abuse in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

When the Varsity hosted shows, nearly 20 percent of attendees would stop by Mesa Pizza, said Mahalia Williams, general manager at Mesa.

But now that shows are infrequent, those bonus rushes have disappeared.

“We’ve definitely noticed a change,” Williams said. “We would get business from even small events like weddings if they weren’t fully catered.”

Given the large number of other events in the Dinkytown area, she said the drop in Varsity-goers isn’t detrimental, but it is missed.

Joe Berg, general manager at the Library Bar, said the inactivity has cut into the bar’s happy hour rush, but hasn’t made a big dent in sales.

“We would get a pre-concert rush from four to six,” he said, “it was nice, but not huge.”

Berg said aside from the Library, Loring would be the restaurant most likely to feel the effects of Varsity’s inactivity.

Cleon Pavlicek, store manager at Insomnia Cookies, said the drop in shows hasn’t affected his store, adding this is probably because most of their business comes from campus, not Dinkytown.

Randal Gast, president of the Dinkytown Business Alliance, said it’s hard to quantify how the Varsity’s inactivity has affected restaurants.

“I can’t tell that my business is down right now,” he said, “But I know that in the past there were events [at the Varsity], and now there’s not nearly enough going on.”

He said while there are other factors at play, the Varsity’s change of schedule has contributed to a drop in Dinkytown foot traffic.

“I know there’s not as much business going on at the Varsity because I’m not blind,” Gast said, “And that has to have some effect.”

Mike Mulrooney, owner of Blarney Pub and Grill, said while he can’t quantify the loss in sales, the Varsity’s inactivity has harmed his and other businesses.

“The emptiness of [the Varsity] and the failure to utilize the space is a disappointment,” Mulrooney said, “Any vacancy that happens in the area hurts the area.”

He said the inactivity means fewer people are being drawn to Dinkytown, and the appearance of vacancy diminishes the neighborhood’s appeal.

“It lowers the value of the businesses and the property in the area,” he said.

Mulrooney said he has not received any updates on the Varsity’s future plans, and he has reached out to the theater with no response. He also contacted the DBA, whose members he said were also unsure of the venue’s plans.

Jason McLean and the Varsity Theater did not respond to requests for comment.