On Thursday, June 22, musician Donald Merckle made a lengthy Facebook post about a recent experience he’d had in downtown Columbia at a restaurant/bar called Main St. Public House. In it, he details a conversation he had with the bar’s co-owner, Jimmy Latulipe, who assured Merckle that as the business grew its reputation as a live-music venue he wouldn’t be allowing “the Nigs” into his establishment. Merckle then spends several paragraphs outlining the specifics of the conversation and concludes by suggesting a boycott.
The post was quickly picked up by Merckle’s friends and followers and soon the story spread throughout the Midlands. As furor against the establishment began to grow, the other owners took to the restaurant’s official Facebook page to issue a statement acknowledging the incident and distancing themselves from the situation.
That, however, didn’t do much to quell the outrage and the story continued to spread. By Sunday evening The FreeTimes picked up on the story followed by The State newspaper. Officials from the Main Street Public House issued another statement on their Facebook page indicating that they would close in order to investigate the situation.
So, for two days, the restaurant remained closed. Days later, a final brief statement was issued:
“A recently completed review of an incident involving one of our part-owners revealed unacceptable comments that do not rise to the standards of Main Street Public House. Our entire ownership team sincerely apologizes to all who have been offended, to our highly-valued, and to our loyal guests. The behavior in question is not a reflection of our business, its attitudes or practices, and it will not be tolerated. As such, Main Street Public House has parted ways with the individual in question, effective immediately. We look forward to growing with, and continuing to serve, our community.”
Most interesting is that the statement was not posted to their Facebook page and all previous statements have been removed from the page as well. It would seem that the remaining ownership team wants only to sweep it all under the rug and move forward.
But many residents aren’t having it.
This series of events has sparked a wider conversation about the rapid growth of downtown Columbia and the glaring lack of minority-owned businesses on Main Street. The incident at Main Street Public House is a prime example of what happens when revitalization excludes the entirety of a community and majority residents feel that they have an exclusionary right to public spaces. Just as white residents feel comfortable with calling the police on black patrons waiting in a Starbucks or on black children in a public pool, the now ousted co-owner of Main Street Public House who expressed a desire to “keep the Nigs out” epitomizes the need to ensure that there is a diversity of voices at the table of economic development.