May 8, 2013

Proximity to women's clinic protests prompts sale of Congress Street restaurant

The owner of Mike’s Rock Deli, which is next door to Planned Parenthood, says he’ll close the business if he can’t sell it.

By J. Craig Anderson / Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The regular presence of anti-abortion protesters on Congress Street has prompted Portland business owner Mike Fink to decide to sell or close his downtown restaurant.

click image to enlarge

Mike Fink, owner of Mike’s Restaurant and also Guitar Grave on Portland’s Congress Street, says he has been “aggravated” by protest activity, which he believes adversely affects his nearby businesses.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Fink, who has clashed repeatedly with the protesters in recent months and even staged his own counter-protests, said he is trying to sell Mike's Restaurant at 437 Congress St. If there are no takers, he plans to shut the restaurant down in August when its current lease expires.

Fink also owns the nearby music and entertainment store Guitar Grave at 441 Congress St., which he said will open later than usual on days when the protesters are present.

Since last summer, a group of 10 to 20 pro-life activists has been picketing on Friday mornings in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 443 Congress St. Recently the group also has been showing up on some Saturdays.

They hold signs showing images of aborted fetuses, and witnesses have said they sometimes shout at women entering the clinic.

Fink, whose two businesses are adjacent to the clinic, said the protesters scare away customers and inhibit his ability to provide friendly service.

"I don't like the way I have yelled at, or been inadvertently rude to my customers and others because of the direct result of how upsetting their presence is to me," he said Monday in an email message to supporters and the media.

In the email, Fink expressed doubts about his ability to find a buyer for Mike's Restaurant, which has been open since August 2010.

"I am very close to giving up selling the restaurant because every time anyone sees the stupid anti-abortion protesters they decide not to consider this location," he said.

One of the protesters, Leslie Sneddon of Portland, said she is skeptical that she or her fellow protesters have affected his business significantly.

Sneddon said the group usually protests for less than two hours a week, from 8:45 to 10:30 a.m. on Fridays. Occasionally the protesters also demonstrate from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays.

"How can he actually blame his failing business on that?" she said.

Fink's role in the regular protests extends beyond that of a disgruntled area business owner. He has derided the protesters publicly, expressed his support for Planned Parenthood and organized his own counter-protests.

Fink said his confrontations with protesters have only empowered them, and he plans to disengage.

"I still believe these anti-abortion protesters are obnoxious and wrong," he said. "I have been warned by the police not to yell at them with intimidating energy. I have been aggravated every Friday and Saturday morning."

Guitar Grave will remain in business, Fink said, but he plans to keep its doors closed on protest days until the demonstrators have gone.

John Maalouf, who owns the nearby Antoine's Tailor Shop & Formal Wear at 435 Congress St., said he has no doubt the protesters' presence has affected weekend sales at Mike's Restaurant, which serves only breakfast and lunch.

But Maalouf said his own business has not been hurt because it does not rely heavily on walk-in customers.

"For myself, it doesn't affect me," he said.

In December, city officials explored options for limiting the protesters' activity, including the proposed establishment of a 35-foot buffer zone around the clinic's entrance.

They chose not to impose a buffer zone, fearing it could lead to an expensive lawsuit over the protesters' First Amendment rights.

Planned Parenthood Director of Public Affairs Megan Hannan said she is disappointed the city stopped short of creating the buffer zone, adding that local leaders can't be happy to see any business leave the downtown area.

"Most importantly, we're going to miss those breakfast burritos," Hannan said.

 

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or atcanderson@mainetoday.com.

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

 

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