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High Street staple Scarlet & Grey cafe closes abruptly following sale

Scarlet & Grey cafe’s sign. After 16 years, the Campus District bar closed on Saturday. Credit: Courtesy of Scarlet & Grey cafe’s Facebook page. 

A High Street concert venue and bar announced its closing Saturday on Facebook. The post was short and vague, apologizing to customers and stating that they would be closed immediately.

Scarlet & Grey cafe was open for 16 years at its 2203 N. High St. location before its abrupt closing. Its Twitter account says it has been host to more than 900 bands and over 1,000 shows.

Helen Yebio, who had been the owner of the bar since it opened, said the stress of paying rent and trying to survive in a construction-ridden area was too much for her to handle. Yebio also said the venue has been sold to another bar owner, though she could not say who, or comment on the new owner’s intended use of the space.

“(The High Street construction) is awful,” Yebio told The Lantern. “We are small business owners trying to keep a business going.”

Yebio credited a decline in business to Campus Partners, Ohio State’s nonprofit development arm responsible for various construction projects such as the 15th and High redevelopment plan. However, the current construction going on is a sewage installation under the City of Columbus, said Erin Prosser, director of community development for Campus Partners.

“It’s not necessarily a private development project that you’ve been seeing along High Street … but Campus Partners isn’t involved in (that),” Prosser said.

Prosser added that Campus Partners is currently working on the infrastructure of its redevelopment plans between East 14th Avenue. and East 16th Avenue — which is multiple blocks from the corner of West Norwich and High Street where Scarlet & Grey cafe was located.

Still, there is other construction not affiliated with Campus Partners a little farther north, and Yebio said the construction hindered many patrons from finding parking close to the venue. She said they would have to park 30 minutes away, making it difficult to keep track of meter times, or the areas they found with open spots.

“They would just end up getting tickets,” Yebio said.

Following Scarlet & Grey’s closure, Yebio said she plans to focus on her two daughters — one of which is going off to college soon — instead of trying to find money to keep up with rent.

“I felt like this is the time for me to be with the girls. I’m a single parent. As a single parent it’s really hard,” Yebio said. “I’ve been crying for three days; my voice is not the same.”

Though Yebio has only two daughters of her own, she said she was a parent figure to many girls who came into the Scarlet & Grey cafe.

“I built up this connection with young people and it’s an amazing connection,” Yebio said. “I just love them. I was a mother figure to all of them.”

Patrick Sanders (second from left) and his band, Typewriter John, greet the applauding crowd at Scarlet & Grey cafe after the group’s show on April 19. Credit: Courtesy of Chloe Braganza

Patrick Sanders, a fourth-year in ecological engineering, has a deep connection to Scarlet & Grey cafe — or, as he said regulars simply referred to it, “Scarlet.” Sanders went there frequently and his band, Typewriter John, played the venue twice, including the band’s final show two weeks ago. With some bandmates graduating and moving from Columbus, Sanders said the group wanted a special venue for its farewell.

“And Scarlet is by far my favorite place around here,” Sanders said. “Being able to play my last show ever at a place like Scarlet & Grey meant the world to me. That night was one of the best nights of my life.”

While its live music was an integral part of Scarlet & Grey cafe’s fabric, Sanders said the people affiliated with it — both employees and regular customers — are what made the place special.

“It’s a bar for the outcasts. Everybody there is in it and they know that this is my home,” Sanders said. “It was a community. Whenever I went, I recognized the same people.”

Wednesday nights at Scarlet & Grey cafe were dubbed “Weird Wednesdays,” Sanders said, and the free-spirited evenings, which typically featured live music and dancing, helped optimize just what the bar stood for.

“Going in there on a ‘Weird Wednesday,’ I felt like I could be myself,” Sanders said. “I could dance if I wanted to. I could stand there and do nothing if I wanted to.”

“Me, personally, I never go out like (other students),” Sanders also said. “I couldn’t even tell you the name of more than five bars on High Street that most OSU students would know. I think the only name that I know is Toos … Everybody is like, ‘Save Toos,” but no, I want to save Scarlet. Scarlet was the only bar I ever felt like I was at home in.”

Though the venue is closed for now, Yebio said there is a chance it could come back in a different location, pending the efforts of the community.

“(The owner) would not be me, it would be (the current staff) to serve the community,” Yebio said, adding: “The train doesn’t have to die.”

Sanders, though, struck a less hopeful tone.

“If they open it again,” he said,” it won’t be the same.”

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