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Falling victim to the latest spate of smashed windows in downtown Windsor, a bar owner is pressing the city for more support to crack down on break-ins.

After more than five years running a business in the city’s core, Sarah Dewar, co-owner of the craft cocktail bar Maiden Lane Wine & Spirits, said she feels downtown’s problems are only growing worse.

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That is why it came as almost no surprise when the security alarm jolted her awake around 5 a.m. on April 12 alerting her to an intruder in the bar.

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“I felt that it was going to happen at some point. We were just lucky that it hadn’t,” said Dewar, who is also a sommelier at Maiden Lane Wine & Spirits.

“We’re down here every single day, and we see what’s going on. We see what has happened to other businesses. Having such a prominent location on a corner with many large windows, we knew that our day would come.”

Sarah Dewar in front of bar
Sarah Dewar, co-owner of Maiden Lane Wine and Spirits, shown in front of the downtown establishment on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, would like more support for downtown businesses suffering vandalism. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Located on Maiden Lane, the alley linking Ouellette Avenue and Pelissier Street, the upscale bar is a popular hideaway for adventurous cocktail and wine lovers in the city.

Spending less than five minutes inside the bar, the intruder made off with several bottles of alcohol, two debit terminals, and an iPad used for the point-of-sale system. Dewar estimates the total value of stolen items to range between $1,500 and $2,000.

The incident echoes similar cases of damaged windows that have struck downtown businesses.

Last June, two windows were smashed at downtown’s Phog Lounge, a small live music venue next to the Capitol Theatre. Both are still boarded up today.

Downtown boutique grocery store La Vern’s Market suffered at least four break-ins since opening in July 2021, including twice by a thief who wanted butter tarts.

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Dewar appreciates the outpouring of support from the community — two local artists even volunteered to paint a vibrant mural over the temporary plywood, a novel approach that helps brighten the neighbourhood.

But she said it’s becoming “harder and harder to stay hopeful.”

“If I could pluck our business and put it into another neighborhood, if we’re being honest, I probably would.

“But for now, this is where we are, and we’re going to try to move forward and make the best of it.”

Downtown’s Ward 3 city Coun. Renaldo Agostino said the city is “going to be stepping up more” to help downtown businesses.

However, he said the wave of break-ins are “not just a downtown thing.

“There’s a broken window every day, everywhere in the city. But it doesn’t get amplified. Downtown’s issues continue to get amplified.”

The downtown Windsor BIA already operates a Broken Window Program for ground-floor commercial properties.

Through the initiative, the DWBIA reimburses 50 per cent of the expense for glass repair or replacement, up to a maximum of $500 per year.

Last year, eight businesses tapped into the program.

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However, Chris MacLeod, the new chair of the Downtown Windsor BIA, said there needs to be “improved vigilance” from police to stop the break-ins before they occur.

“I think there’s improvement necessary there,” Macleod said.

“Regardless of where they are in the city, I don’t think people should feel like they should be able to get away with that stuff.”

MacLeod is also the co-owner of Realty ONE Group Iconic, located on the main floor of The Hive on Pelissier Street. Though he recognizes the large panes of glass on the façade of his business make him a target, he said it does not weigh on him.

“We chose to be downtown because we want to make a difference,” he said.

“I think things are getting better downtown.

“I’m more encouraged when I see new business owners coming downtown, than I am discouraged when somebody performs vandalism.”

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The location of Maiden Lane Wine & Spirits also exposes them to additional challenges, said Dewar, who said they often diffuse confrontations between individuals struggling with addiction or homelessness who cut through the alley.

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“We try to be compassionate, but it gets exhausting after a while, especially when it drives our customers away,” she said.

“I’m always reluctant to tell these stories because I don’t want it to drive people away, but people need to know that this is going on and the city needs to do something about it.”

Mark Dutka and Sarah Dewar
Mark Dutka and Sarah Dewar, co-owners of Maiden Lane Wine and Spirits, are pictured inside their upscale bar on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Dewar said their landlords intend to eventually replace the boarded-up window.

“We have issues downtown that are incredibly visible and other parts of the city don’t have those issues,” said Agostino.

“Though the statistics tell you that downtown is safe, there’s also the perception. And the perception is what we’re working on every single day.”

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