For those of us too late for the fabled and long-gone Leo’s, the Decatur Lounge on Providence’s West Side was our own little slice of nirvana: an unprepossessing and multi-faceted (bar/community center/kickball hotspot/pool hall) home away from home, a cozy place where it was easy to find friends and good cheer.
Now, the Decatur is gone, a victim of a simmering dispute between landlord Jon Ozbek and barkeep Joann Seddon, and it’s destined to join the pantheon of beloved watering holes that have passed from this bash.
Preparing for the bar’s final night on Wednesday, Seddon preferred to focus on the bright side after more than five years of operation in Luongo Square. “It’s just a building — we’re a community,” she says. “A lot of positive things happened [during the Decatur’s tenure]. We’re going to reopen.” The nightlife veteran takes pride in aptly describing her clientele as the most diverse crowd she’s seen, and how “everyone got along,” forging a tight-knit connection in the process. After taking some time off and visiting New Orleans, Seddon says, she plans to pursue another bar at some point in the future.
Last week, when the news broke that the Decatur was facing eviction, rumors swirled about the possible reasons. Ozbek, who possesses a small real estate empire informally known as “Ozbekistan,” didn’t return a call seeking comment at the time, and his listed Providence phone number has since been disconnected.
On the brighter side, the group of Rhode Islanders who helped to bring public radio to the state in 1998 are planning to buy WRNI (1290 AM), raising the possibility of a more robust local presence.
In a statement released after the Phoenix broke news of the sale last week, Boston University-based WBUR announced that the local boosters, known as Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR), will pay $2 million over a 10-year period to acquire WRNI. RIPR will also buy a Narragansett-based FM station, filling a severe need by giving WRNI significantly better coverage through most of southern Rhode Island.
While WBUR says it invested $3.6 million in WRNI, the local station’s presence was dramatically scaled back after 9-11, and the Boston-based operation tried to sell WRNI’s license in 2005, backtracking only after a public outcry. Things have improved since, with the hiring of general manager Joe O’Connor and reporter Nancy Cook, and the continued presence of news stalwart Mark Degon, yet the station has yet to regain the strength of its previous bigger staff.
It’s not cheap to operate a high-quality radio station. At the very least, though, this sale ties WRNI’s potential to the willingness of Rhode Islanders to support it, rather than the sometimes-capricious whims of an out-of-town entity.
On the Web
Some material in this story was published March 22 and 23 at: www.thephoenix.com/notfornothing.
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