The Story

Something is amiss at 2680 Madison Road. In the thriving Cincinnati neighborhood of Hyde Park, the property is sandwiched between several decades-old Cincinnati staples, and a stone’s throw away from an upscale shopping center. The space is huge, the parking is ample. And yet, the building has been abandoned for five years. Seven different businesses have cycled through the address over the last thirty years. It seems that every business that inhabits its four walls is destined to fail.

Alex Blumberg sends StartUp Senior Producer Kaitlin Roberts to his hometown to investigate this peculiar property. With microphone in hand, she books a ticket to Cin City.

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The Facts

Matthew Boll mixed the episode.

Our theme song was written and performed by Mark Phillips.

The special ad music, Microliters, was written and performed by Build Buildings. 

Additional music from the band Hot Moms Dot Gov .

Our logo was designed by Elias Stein.

 

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Show transcript

ALEX: From Gimlet, this is StartUp. I’m Alex Blumberg. And I’m the one opening the show today in place of your regular host, Lisa Chow, for a reason, a reason we’ll get to in a second. But first, a moment of reflection. This is the last episode of season three of StartUp. A season where we focused on endings, almost endings and new beginnings. And as we, here, on the Startup team were considering stories that fit that theme, I realized I had the perfect one. I’d grown up with it, as a matter of fact. It was around the corner from the house that I lived in for most of my childhood. And so, I asked StartUp senior producer Kaitlin Roberts to come into the studio and talk about it.

 

KAITLIN: Check, check, check. Okay.

ALEX: Um, so it occurred to me that I could use the StartUp podcast to answer a question I’ve had for a long time. Which is that there’s this, there was this one corner by my house that never seemed to be able to support a business

KAITLIN: Uh huh.

Alex: Like, it was a commercial spot. Every single business that opened up there would close down.

KAITLIN: Okay.

Alex: And so my memory is that, like, from the moment we moved to our house in Cincinnati, which I guess was in the seventies sometime. I think it was like ‘73, ‘72. ‘73. This one commercial location was just cursed.

 

-music-

 

ALEX: Maybe you’ve noticed a location like this, where you live. That one spot, in an otherwise thriving commercial district, that just can’t seem to sustain a business. I’ve stumbled across locations like this in every neighborhood I’ve ever lived in. But this one spot in Cincinnati, was a particularly stark case. Starting in college and continuing to the present day, every time I’d go back home for the holidays, or for just random visits to my parents, there seemed to be a new coat of paint on that building, a new sign above the door, another business, bravely making a go of it in that one cursed location.

 

 

KAITLIN: What do you remember it being in that spot?

ALEX: So, I remember, when I was growing up, it was Blue Moon Saloon for a while, which was this restaurant slash bar.

KAITLIN: Mm-hmm.

ALEX: It was a… the basketball team at Cincinnati is called the Bearcats and the coach was named Bob Huggins. And so for awhile he had a bar called, I think, Huggs Place or something like that. So, it was Huggs Place for awhile, I think.

KAITLIN: Uh-huh

ALEX: Um, It was a place called the Pig and Thistle for awhile, I think? There were a bunch of other places there too I don’t remember. I think right now it’s sitting vacant. Which is like really insane. Because some of the most successful businesses in Cincinnati are right in that location, like there is this bakery right across the street called Busken’s—

KAITLIN: Uh huh.

ALEX: —that’s been there forever. Everybody in Cincinnati goes there. You have cars like, packing the parking lot on Sunday. Everyone goes to church and picks up their donuts and goes home. Right next to this commercial property is this, like, super famous pizzeria called LaRosa’s where everybody in Cincinnati orders from. Any night there are delivery people going out, the parking lot’s full. So that was when we moved there. And then, as my parents have lived there and as the country has changed and the economy has changed, that neighborhood where this, where this commercial property is located has just exploded even more.

KAITLIN: Mm-hmm.

ALEX: Everything, as far as I can tell, that get opened up there thrives.

KAITLIN: Right.

ALEX: And, uh, except for this one spot. It’s just, like, mind-boggling.

KAITLIN: And is it like, is it like a parking issues, is it…?

Alex: I mean in Cinn—there’s not— parking isn’t a problem in Cincinnati, like, it’s like—

KAITLIN: They got that under control.

ALEX: Yeah. It doesn’t make any sense. And and I’ve always wondered like what was it about that one spot that didn’t work.

 

ALEX: Every year in the United States, around 400,000 businesses open, and a little less than 400,000 businesses close. Which means, all across the country, thousands of times a day, new dreams are being launched and old dreams are flickering out and dying. And here, at 2680 Madison Road, in Cincinnati, Ohio, that national saga of ending and beginning is distilled into one location, where that saga has been repeating for decades. Why? And what secrets does a location like this hold about what makes businesses thrive, and what makes them die?

After our conversation in the studio, it really seemed like we should investigate this further. So, Kaitlin found herself buying a ticket to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio on a quest for answers.

That quest led to a lot of fascinating places and to a little bit of bad language. You’ve been warned.

 

KAITLIN: On the plane to Cincinnati, I have to admit, I was skeptical of this entire premise.

I’d reached out to a few of the building’s previous owners, and they asked me, why are you doing a story on this? Bars and restaurants close all the time. There’s nothing special going on here.

It wasn’t until I got to the building that I realized something a little out of the ordinary had happened at 2680 Madison Road.

The building is blue, cement and boxy, with smudged awnings. There’s a big parking lot to the left with weeds growing between cracks in the concrete. In a tidy neighborhood with historic homes and shady trees, this building stands out.

So, I was looking around when I noticed a side door with the windows smashed in. I went over to check it out.

 

KAITLIN: It’s weird there’s nothing that says no trespassing, but I’m going to go inside by coming through this door.

 

KAITLIN: I reached my hand through the windowpane and turned the doorknob.

The floor is covered with glass, sawdust, and those wax paper napkins that line baskets of french fries to soak up the grease. The place smells like paint and stale beer. But it doesn’t feel entirely abandoned.

 

KAITLIN: You know, it’s weird because the lights are on and the refrigerator is running.

 

KAITLIN: The contents of someone’s makeup bag are strewn across the floor, an eyeliner here, a compact there. There are bar stools violently flipped over.

 

KAITLIN: It is a total mess in here. I mean, it looks like somebody came in here for anger management and just, like, freaked out.

 

KAITLIN: The place is big with high ceilings and all kinds of rooms. The room with the lifesize cutouts of Cincinnati basketball players. The room with black-and-white photos of men playing golf.

There’s an office area with envelopes addressed to some guy named John Frazer. Across from the office is a dark hallway.  

 

KAITLIN: Oh my God, this is so fucking weird. My heart is beating so fast right now. This is just like, I really don’t want to be here. I just really don’t want to be here.

 

KAITLIN: There’s a stampede of fresh footprints in the sawdust. Empty beer glasses sit along a wooden bar.  And there are menus with a picture of a cartoon pig wearing an umpire’s uniform.

In the kitchen, ladles and frying pans hang on their hooks. Cans of diced tomatoes and olives stacked in the cupboards.

 

KAITLIN: It looks like somebody just at the end of the night just decided to leave and they left everything, and then like nobody came in to take away… there was no cleanup. There was nothing. The lights are still on.  It’s just weird something like this is allowed to stand. This is not—this is creepy.

 

KAITLIN: I saw a light on in the basement.

 

KAITLIN: I am so not going in that basement. It’s freaky as fuck.

 

KAITLIN: I decided to go in the basement. Halfway down the narrow steps, I heard a thud.

 

KAITLIN: Okay, I just scared the shit out of myself because I heard something. Oh my God. I have to get out of here. This freaking me out.

 

KAITLIN: All my skepticism about this location vanished and I sprinted for the door, my heart still pounding. An abandoned restaurant, a noise coming from the basement. It seemed pretty cursed to me.

Outside, in the sunlight, I saw joggers. Parents pushing strollers. The bakery parking lot across the street packed with SUVs and mini vans. There was no reason a neighborhood like this should have a building like that.

And over the next few weeks, I learned everything I could about 2680 Madison Road.

Alex was right about some things. There were a bunch of businesses in this building. Since the 1970s, when Alex and his family moved to Cincinnati, seven business started and ended in this spot. What Alex couldn’t have imagined, though, are the stories behind each of those seven endings.  

Nearly every bad thing that can happen to a business has happened in this building. People got in over their heads, people made the wrong bets, there was heartbreak, betrayal.  Each story is unique and strange and surprisingly instructive.

I’ll start here. With the first of the seven businesses, a business Alex didn’t remember.

It’s the fall of 1974, and a guy named Doug Schoonover is a junior in college at the University of Cincinnati. And one day he gets a phone call from his dad.

 

DOUG: And he’s like, “Are you finished with that college thing yet? Because I need some

help. Ah, come on, just come work for me, you’ll love it.”

 

KAITLIN: Doug’s dad Jerry sold used luxury cars—Jaguars, Mercedes. One day he thought, I’m the best used car salesman in Cincinnati, I should be working for myself.

He started his own shop at 2680 Madison Road, the site of a former Oldsmobile Dealership. A few months later, Doug dropped out of school to join his dad.

 

DOUG: And we opened up a dealership called Schoonover Imports.

KAITLIN: Was this your first job? 

DOUG: Oh, yeah. Sold my very first car. 1975 Triumph TR7 in yellow. Everybody always remembers the first one they sell.

 

KAITLIN: Their first year in business, Jerry and Doug took a risk.

 

DOUG: We took on this car that nobody ever heard of called a Subaru, and then we took on another franchise that no one had ever heard of called a Saab.

 

KAITLIN: Other dealers in town looked at the Saab, Subarus and said, who would buy one of these? But Jerry told Doug, people are going to want these cars. We just have to show it to them. And as Doug reminded me, the internet didn’t exist in 1974. They had other ways of getting the word out.

 

DOUG: You take cars to events and show them and kiss babies and shake hands and, you know, whatever it took to sell cars. Because nobody knew what a Subaru or Saab was.

KAITLIN: So, what would people say about the Subarus and the Saabs when you would, you know, take them around and show them the cars?

DOUG: Well, the older people back then were very reluctant on the Subaru because the car was made in Japan, so you had the WWII people that were like, I’m not looking at anything Japanese.

KAITLIN: Right, right .

DOUG: Whereas the Saab was from Sweden, so, you know, that’s a neutral country, so everybody looked at those but they were a little pricey.

 

KAITLIN: To stay in business, Doug had to sell seven cars a month.

 

DOUG: And we were way over those numbers. Subaru came out with some, you know a little four-wheel drive station wagon that turned out to be extremely popular. Then they came out with that little truck called a BRAT. And I had orders in my desk twelve inches thick of people wanting them.

 

KAITLIN: And this gets us to the first reason a business abandoned 2680 Madison Road: success. The neighborhood was their target market—well-educated, well-off. Doug and his dad would have stayed in the area but their dealership grew so successful, they ran out of room. So they moved Schoonover Imports farther out of the city, to a bigger lot.  And rode that Subaru boom for next several years.

 

KAITLIN: So it was a happy ending to the, to the business?

DOUG: Very happy ending.  Enough for my father to walk out and say, “I’ll see you later I’m retiring,” and he was fifty-two years old.

 

KAITLIN: Doug and Jerry still owned 2680 Madison Road, and so they figured, they’d lease it out to other business owners.

 

DOUG: Right, what happened was, there was a guy in town, his name was Dollar Bill. Chain smoker, funny as can be, and just knew how to run a bar. And he ran into me and said, “Hey, what are you gonna do with your building? I want open another bar.” And I said, “I don’t know, if you want to make it into a bar, make it into a bar.”

 

KAITLIN: Dollar Bill had been turning buildings into bars for years. He converted some old row houses into a bar that became the hangout spot for Cincinnati nursing students. Before the Urban Cowboy trend, Dollar Bill transformed an old warehouse into a country-western bar.

Turning a car dealership into a saloon was so Dollar Bill.

 

CAROL: The Blue Moon was probably the pinnacle of who he really was and his vision and that coming to fruition.

 

KAITLIN: This is Dollar Bill’s daughter, Carol. She was twelve-years-old when he took over 2680 Madison Road.

 

CAROL: Yeah. He would always say—he had a T-shirt that said I’m a legend in my own time. No, no I think it said I’m a legend in my own mind. That’s what it said.

KAITLIN: Oh wow

CAROL: Oh yeah, he would joke about being a rock star. But I think his life… he really had a feeling he wouldn’t live long and he really wanted to do what he wanted to do and live life to the fullest. His father passed away at fifty and I think my dad just really was a free spirit in a lot of ways.

 

KAITLIN: The Blue Moon Saloon opened on December 26, 1981.

 

CAROL: There was a front room that came out a little bit and that really was the area where he envisioned ladies lunching, and playing cards and spending the day and having iced tea and—and then the main area was really that young professionals area.

 

KAITLIN: The car showroom became the bar area. He turned the parts department into a kitchen. And the garage in the back, Dollar Bill made that into an actual car wash. You could get your car cleaned while enjoying a beer and a burger.

A jukebox played The Beach Boys, Elvis, The Supremes. The walls were decorated with rusting vintage signs and black-and-white photos of Old Cincinnati. Outside the building, neon lights spelled out Blue Moon Saloon in fat cursive letters.

Dollar Bill made the Blue Moon the place to be. Esquire magazine named it one of the top 100 bars in America. Weirdly, the magazine asked Jodie Foster—you know, Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver—to interview Dollar Bill for the article. Everyone wanted to come to the Blue Moon.

 

JENNY: It was a different era.

 

KAITLIN: Jenny Englehart was a customer back in the eighties.

 

JENNY: There are so many memories created inside that place. Engagements and business deals written on beverage napkins. You know, it was when business was real relationships.

 

KAITLIN: The Blue Moon was poised to become a Cincinnati institution, like the pizza place next door, going on thirty-five years, or the bakery across the street that’s been around since 1962. But things started going wrong when Dollar Bill had some conflicts with his investors.

It’s unclear exactly what went down. Dollar Bill was the visionary front man. The investors were the money and business guys. One investor told me that Dollar Bill liked to party a little too much.

In any case, by 1983, they parted ways. Carol, Dollar Bill’s daughter, remembers how her dad told her he was leaving the business.

 

CAROL: We were at lunch—and we might have been at the Blue Moon—and I remember being very sad and really wondering if he really did want to move on, because as a kid I didn’t know all the details. But, he also wouldn’t have been happy staying. He really loved that beginning time and so, just as many entrepreneurs and startups go onto other startups, and start up and start up and start up, I think he really had that. That was where that where his passion was.

 

KAITLIN: Dollar Bill did die young—of cancer at forty-five years old.

But the thing that brought the Blue Moon to an end wasn’t Dollar Bill’s departure. It was what happened next. One of the business partners decided he wanted to run the bar. For about a year, things went well. But then, one of the other partners, this guy named Ken Heil, noticed something.

 

KEN: I look at the monthly statements every single month, and I can tell when something is wrong, and the numbers just weren’t making any sense.

We closed at 2:30 in the morning, so I would go in between 3:30 and 4 o’clock and count the safe. Then I would just watch the deposits the next day that he was making and just collected that information for about a month and then confronted him with it.

I told him that I had evidence that he had taken money that didn’t get deposited, and where did it go? And he swore that he didn’t take it. And then after I just sat there and just kept pounding him and pounding, where is the money? It was very clear what was going on. He finally broke down and said, yes he’d been taking it all along.

KAITLIN: How were you, how were you feeling at that point?

KEN: Well, disappointed to start with, obviously, I mean being in business with someone is the same thing as being married.  I guess you could relate it to if you were married and you found out your spouse was not being faithful to you. It’s the same situation. You know, it’s a hard pill to swallow, and no matter what you say, no matter how many times they mea culpa, I couldn’t find it in my heart to forgive him.

 

KAITLIN: Around sixty percent of small businesses like the Blue Moon Saloon go through something like this—embezzlement. And in about twenty percent of those cases, it’s perpetrated by owners or managers.

Embezzlement is what led to ending number two. Ken shut down the Blue Moon Saloon. He couldn’t imagine staying in business with that guy anymore.  

 

KAITLIN: Did it make you, sort of, wary of future partnerships?

KEN: Well, I guess you could say yes and I guess you could say no, because I did get into a few other partnerships down the road. But, you know, it’s like anything. If you bite into an apple and it’s rotten, you don’t give up apples the rest of your life. And somewhere along the line you have to trust people.

 

KAITLIN: Ken had a bunch of other businesses in the Cincinnati area: a golf course, a floating restaurant and a local chain of casual restaurants called Barleycorn’s.

 Which brings us to the third business in this location.

 After shutting down the Blue Moon, Ken decided to turn 2680 Madison Road into another Barleycorn’s. This time, he’d run the place himself.

 Barleycorn’s had a brief run. The thing that brought it to a end? A better opportunity came along.

 It was the mid nineties, and the University of Cincinnati basketball team was making a name for itself. The young coach Bob Huggins led the Bearcats to the Elite Eight, Final Four. He earned eight conference titles, and to this day Coach Huggins holds the record for most victories in the school’s basketball history.

 

KEN: Huggins was hot then. He was winning, he was very popular in Cincinnati. Sports bars were starting to come into their own so it was a natural fit.

 

KAITLIN: So Ken worked out a plan to turn 2680 Madison road into a restaurant that was built around Bob Huggins’ brand. In return, Coach Huggins would get a percentage of the gross sales.

Ken told me he invested a lot of money in the new business. Adding video games, pool tables.

He decorated it with University of Cincinnati memorabilia, life-size cutouts of the team. With its high ceilings and large open spaces, the building also had room for basketball hoops and three half-courts.

They called the place Huggs Inn.

Every Wednesday night, Bob Huggins hosted a live radio show from the bar. Customers crowded in to lob questions about coaching strategy and competing teams.  

 

KEN: And that worked for awhile, but we had conflicts we just couldn’t resolve.

KAITLIN: What were the conflicts?

KEN: He was not the kind of person I want to be in business with.

 

KAITLIN: Ken said Bob’s partners wanted more control of the bar.

 

KEN: Some of his friends thought they knew more about the business than I did, even though they had never been in a business, and I had been in it for a number of years. So, I didn’t agree with anything that they said about how I was to make the burgers or whether the buns should be toasted or which tomatoes should be included or what signs should go up, anything like that. It didn’t matter to me what they thought.

 

KAITLIN: I reached out to Bob Huggins but he didn’t remember much about Huggs Inn. He told me he got out of the business so he could focus on basketball. Simple as that.

But according to Ken, the end of Huggs Inn was way more dramatic. He remembers one night he went to Coach Huggins office and told he wanted to make some changes.

 

KEN: So there was a big argument about it. And he’s famous for using a lot of curse words and every other word out of his mouth was F you, F you, F you, F you. And I sat down and listened. We talked talked about it—I talked about it, they yelled about it—for about an hour, and finally I said, this is the last chance, you know. I own you. I give you a piece of this. You don’t own this place. You have no control. You agree to it or I close the doors tonight and I don’t need you for any of this stuff. And it was F you, F you, you’re going to do this, you’re not going do that. It’s in the contract, I can terminate you whenever I want to. So, you are officially terminated.

 

KAITLIN: The power struggle between a star coach and a career restaurateur ended the business. Huggs Inn was out. Ending number four.

Ken needed a new plan.  He went back to the restaurant to tell Jenny, his general manager. Jenny was that customer from the Blue Moon Saloon days who talked about seeing business deals on beverage napkins. She was now working for Ken, running day-to-day operations. And she had an idea.

 

JENNY:  We sat down and talked about what to do when we knew that Huggs Inn was gonna come to a close, and I said I really think we need to relive the heyday. I really think that we should go back to being Blue Moon Saloon. Now, all those people who were hanging out here in the eighties still live here during the nineties and two-thousands. But now, it’s their neighborhood place where they’re going to have a meal; with their kids. So I’m like, let’s just recapture some of our youth.

And we had like twenty-four hours to flip it all.

 

KAITLIN: Ken and Jenny and the staff stayed up all night. They took down the Huggs Inn sign, ordered new uniforms, printed menus. They’d decided to reclaim their former glory.  And in twenty-four hours, they started a new restaurant. The second Blue Moon Saloon.

Jenny spent most of her twenties and thirties working in this building. During her time at 2680, she met some of her closest friends. She fell in love, got married—even had her wedding reception there. Talking to Jenny, I realize how much this place means to her. I wonder what she’d think of it now.

 Jenny and I drive over to the building. She’s excited. But when we walk inside, it’s clear it’s not what she expected.

 

JENNY: Seriously who does this? Who lets this shit happen? Be careful. This is a fucking train wreck.

 

KAITLIN: Jenny becomes the Jenny who used to work here. She gives me a tour of the building. Wobbling in her black sandals across the broken glass, past life-size cutouts of Coach Huggins’ basketball team, the bar, the old safe.

 

JENNY: Same safe. I can tell you the combination. 18-26-34.

 

KAITLIN: We walk into the front room.

 

JENNY: And Huggs show, we used to have up here on the deck.

KAITLIN: Right up there?

JENNY: Like, right there. Yeah. It looked a lot nicer then.

 

KAITLIN: In the room with the high ceilings, Jenny points to the sagging basketball hoops.

 

JENNY: And it was traditional basketball flooring. Well, you can still see it. It’s still here.

 

KAITLIN: We kick away the wax tissue paper, and you can see the court. The wood floors. The three-point line.

The small things I’d hardly noticed walking through on my own mean a lot to Jenny. They’re traces of her old life, who she was back then. This was the first place Jenny worked that gave her real responsibility—managing a staff and running a business. It’s really hard for her to see it this way.

 

JENNY: Oh my God. This is heartbreaking. I’m sorry, this is really hard.  Who lets this happen? I don’t know who these people were, but they’re assholes. I’m sorry.

KAITLIN: That’s okay. It makes sense. You have so many, you know, so much history here.

JENNY: I know, but who in their world decides it’s okay? I mean, I get it. We all fall on tough times. And truly, I’ve been broke enough that I’m one paycheck away from eating ramen noodles the rest of my life, but… how do you stop caring?

 

KAITLIN: Just then the door opens. Two backpack-wearing kids walk in. They can’t be more than fourteen.

 

JENNY: Hello, can I help you?

KIDS: No, I was just going to get my stuff.

JENNY: I hope not, because you don’t own this place.

KIDS: Huh?

JENNY: Unless you own this place, you don’t need to be in here.

 

KAITLIN: Jenny doesn’t own the building either. But it doesn’t seem like the time to remind her of that. The kids leave. The door slams behind them. Jenny can’t believe what’s happened to this place.  

 

JENNY: I mean, these two kids just literally got out of school. They weren’t expecting to see you or me in here. So obviously this place has turned into something it shouldn’t be, which takes away from all the things it was.

 

KAITLIN: Standing in the bar-room with Jenny, the place looks different than it did when I was here just a few days earlier.

The safe, the basketball hoops. These objects have meaning, I know their stories. But there were still questions about who left this all behind. And why?

We’re going to take a break, and when we come back, we’ll talk with the last person who ran a business at 2680 Madison Road. And hear about the senseless crime that changed this building forever.

 

-ad break-


KAITLIN: The second Blue Moon only lasted a few years. The thing that brought it down, that led to ending number five, was one of the most basic problems a business can face—the rent was too damn high.

By this point, real estate was booming. But the Blue Moon wasn’t doing well enough to pay top-dollar rent.

Twice in a blue moon just wasn’t going to happen.

But the property didn’t sit vacant for long. Doug Schoonover and his dad—who, by this point, had sold their Subaru dealership—leased the building to a guy named John Fraser, an attorney turned restaurateur who ran bars all over Cincinnati.

In 2003, John opened a golf-themed bar called Mulligan’s.

Mulligan’s was never as popular as the first Blue Moon Saloon or Huggs Inn, but it threw a good St. Patrick’s Day party and stayed busy when Cincinnati sports teams were doing well.

But Mulligan’s is most remembered for something that happened one night, January 14, 2006.

It happened in the Mulligan’s parking lot around 6:30pm.

A twenty-eight-year-old man named Rob Pursley was meeting friends at Mulligan’s. He’d been to the building before. Rob played basketball as a kid and used to go to Huggs Inn with his family.

As he was getting out of his car, Rob was shot and killed by someone waiting in the bushes, who was attempting to hijack Rob’s car.

Dan Pursley, Rob’s dad, wasn’t at home when the police called. Dan was at a basketball game with one of his other sons.

 

DAN: They called my wife at home and told her that he had been shot and was killed. And she just went into hysteria, naturally. Tried to call us, couldn’t get a hold of us at the ballgame, ended up texting my son, and he got the text. And then we ran out of there and ran home to her. But it obviously it was the worst night of our life, and I just hope nobody has to go through that, let alone a parent losing a child

 

KAITLIN: After Rob’s death, his family also had to go through the legal process of finding the killer.  There were no witnesses, no weapons left behind. It took a year for police to find and convict Lonnie Webster, who’s now serving eighty years to life in prison. 

Dan and his wife Edie have gone back to that parking lot. Every year, they lay a wooden cross where Rob was killed.

 

DAN: We take a cross there on his angel date and on his birthday. We kind of went to the side where there was some ground space and trees, and we put his name and initials and rest in peace, and we just put it in the ground there.

 

KAITLIN: Dan told me that going back with Edie, laying out a cross, it’s a tradition that’s been healing for them.  

 

DAN: Some statistics will tell that, unfortunately, when you lose a child, seven out of ten, eight out of ten people will end up getting divorced and either blame each other or just can’t deal with it. But thank goodness, thank God, we was able to pull closer together. And we just celebrated our forty-sixth anniversary. Somehow it made us stronger and love each other more.

 

KAITLIN: Over the years, as the location has become vacant and run down, it’s been hard for Dan and his wife Edie to know how to feel about it.

 

DAN: Last time we went, there was, like, daisies growing up all over the place. And we tried to hold on that as a pretty field of flowers for Rob. But it was somewhat of a relief and glad that Mulligan’s went out of business. So there’s a lot of mixed emotion there as far as when it was sold, when it closed. And some of it’s happy and some of it isn’t.  

 

KAITLIN: Murder ripples out. It permanently alters the family and friends closest to the victim, and its effects don’t stop there.

 

LYNNE: I think in some ways that it was, that it was tough to recover from that.

 

KAITLIN: Lynne LaMacchia was an investor in Mulligan’s.

 

LYNNE: That building is always going to have that it happened in that parking lot. I think unfortunately that… I think does impact the business.

 

KAITLIN: Lynne says, Mulligan’s never recovered from the murder. Two years later, it closed down. The owner moved to Florida. That was ending number six.

Lynne and her husband took over the business. They like to travel, had just gotten back from England and decided to turn Mulligan’s into an English pub. They painted the outside of the building dark blue and put up a sign: yellow letters, that said, “The Pig and Whistle Pub.”

 

LYNNE: So we played off the pig being, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the logo, but it’s actually a pig, he’s got an umpire uniform on, so a referee shirt with a whistle.

 

KAITLIN: Lynn thought opening a restaurant would be fun. She was wrong.

She never imagined how hard it would all be—managing a staff, the endless logistics.

 

LYNNE: All of a sudden, you would get this frantic call and it would be like we’re out of toilet paper, and it would be on one of the busiest nights of the thing, and you were like, “What do you mean we’re out of toilet paper? I just went to buy everything and you didn’t tell me that toilet paper was even an issue,” you know? Those kinds of things.

KAITLIN: Despite all the challenges there were, what did you like about running The Pig and Whistle?

LYNNE: Um, hmm. Hmm. Let’s see. I really don’t know if there was really much that I really, truly enjoyed. Because it got to the point where if you walked in the door, you—like I couldn’t just go there and sit down at the bar and not have within the first minute being there, somebody coming over because something’s wrong with this, something’s wrong with this, something’s you know. And It was almost nicer to go where not everybody knows your name. So not everybody is yelling, you know, Lynne, Lynne, Lynne, Lynne, Lynne.

 

KAITLIN: And this brings us to ending number seven. The last ending of a business at 2680 Madison Road.

One weekend, Lynne and her husband John sat down and made a decision. They hated running a restaurant. They wanted out. On the last day, Lynne said they left the place in good shape. Cleaned it up, discarded all the old stuff. Turned the key into Doug Schoonover. And walked away. But as she’s was describing this neat ending, I kept thinking about the way I saw the place and I had to ask.

 

KAITLIN: Have you ever gone in the building since it closed down?

LYNNE: I have not gone in the building since it’s closed, no.

KAITLIN:  I actually, I went in the building a couple weeks ago. I thought, you know, I’d take a couple pictures of the outside.  And then I saw the door was open, but—

LYNNE: Why was the door open? Or is the door literally open and it’s just—

KAITLIN: Yeah.

LYNNE: Oh my gosh.

KAITLIN: Yeah, the refrigerators are on. The lights are on.

LYNNE: Oh my lord. So, is it still— all the chairs are there and everything?

KAITLIN: All the chairs are there. There are menus. There’s food in the kitchen.

LYNNE: There is food in the kitchen?

KAITLIN: Yeah, olives and cans of tomatoes and soy sauce, like—

LYNNE: Oh, okay, so there were things that were non-perishable type stuff.

 

KAITLIN: Lynn explained that when she shut down The Pig and Whistle, they thought maybe another restaurant would be moving in after them. She figured the new owners might want cans of tomatoes, or tables and chairs. But she never expected the building would sit abandoned for five years.

 

LYNNE: So I, yeah, I’m surprised there hasn’t been something worse that’s taken place at that building. Because, you know how dark it is in that building. Even when I would go in by myself and I’d get in there, I would always feel very odd being in there because it’s so big and it’s so dark in some of those spots. I felt kind of like, almost like it was haunted too. That’s probably what it seems like, is it’s like, it just stopped and boom.

KAITLIN: Yeah.

LYNNE: Yeah. Yeah, I bet that would be kind of eerie.

 

-music-

 

ALEX: Wow. Holy crap. I could not have—just like you said in the beginning, I could not have imagined all that.

KAITLIN: Yeah, me neither. It’s a pretty weird story.

ALEX: So that’s it? It’s just going to sit vacant forever? Is that like, is that it’s fate now? It’s done? It’s just gonna be dead?

KAITLIN: Well, I talked to the guy who bought the property and he bought it from Doug Schoonover and his dad.

ALEX: Okay.

KAITLIN: And believe it or not, the plan is to turn it into condos.

ALEX: Of course it is.

KAITLIN: What—how do you see the building differently now?

ALEX: Well… I mean… I think before it was a punchline. You know, oh it’s that one business that nothing, nothing survives there. And now it’s just like, I feel like I know it. Now it feels like, oh wow, like, so much life happened there. That’s what it feels to me now.

KAITLIN: Yeah.

ALEX: It’s like, sort of like, oh no it’s not a punchline at all. I mean it’s probably too grandiose, but what the hell we’re at the end. It felt like, now it’s sort of like, a symbol of like, life in a weird kind of way, you know what I mean?

KAITLIN: Yeah.

ALEX: It’s also interesting like, just sort of like, how a location can mean so many different things to so many different people. And how this one location can sort of, like, contain all these different realities

KAITLIN: Mm-hmm. Does it make you think, I mean—just because we’re thinking about endings and failure and endings and new beginnings in the season, I mean, a lot of things failed there, like— does it, I don’t know. Does it make you—do you have anything to say about that?

ALEX: I don’t know what you’re talking about. No, I mean, I think there are… so, thoughts of failure stalk everything that I do, probably. And, and, and so to the extent that this gave me new ways of imaging the form that that failure could take maybe, maybe I wake up one day and discover that Matt’s been embezzling a bunch of money, or he wakes up one day and realizes I’ve been embezzling a bunch a money.

Wow, can you imagine? That’d be so harsh. It’d be a good episode of StartUp though, wouldn’t it?

 

-music-

 

ALEX: Okay, so that brings this episode and this season to a close.

Thank you so much for listening this season. We will be back with season four in just a couple months. Lisa Chow is hard at work on that right now. There’s a bunch of great things coming. We’re gonna be profiling a pretty interesting company and we’re also gonna have a bunch of episodes on Gimlet as well. Stay tuned for more on that.

Alright, you want to do the credits?

KAITLIN: Yeah, yeah. Let’s go.

 ALEX: Today’s episode was produced and edited by Lisa Chow, Peter Clowney, Molly Messick, Bruce Wallace, Luke Malone, Simone Polanen, me and you, Kaitlin Roberts.  

Research help from my parents, Joan and Richard Blumberg. Hi, mom and dad.

KAITLIN: And thank you to Lisa Pollak, who helped us develop this season of StartUp. She also contributed ideas and reporting to individual episodes.

ALEX: Mark Phillips wrote and performed our theme song. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music. Additional music by the band Hot Moms Dot Gov.

KAITLIN: Matthew Boll mixed the episode.   

To subscribe to the podcast, you can go to iTunes and subscribe to StartUp, or, check out the gimlet media website: GimletMedia.com. You can follow us on twitter @podcaststartup.

ALEX: Thanks for listening. We’ll see you in the next season of StartUp.

 

We do our best to make sure these transcripts are accurate. If you would like to quote from an episode of StartUp, please check the transcript with the corresponding audio.

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