MOVER AND SHAKER – Justin Strong at Ava’s Brazillian Carnival in 2012
On June 10, Justin Strong, owner of AVA Bar & Lounge, announced he would be closing the second of his two venues, originally housed side by side near the corner of South Highland Ave. and East Liberty Blvd. His first venue, Shadow Lounge, was a staple of East Liberty for more than a decade before it closed this March.
“At the end of March we closed down the historic Shadow Lounge [set to reopen at a new location in 2015-2016] with the plan of keeping AVA operating in its original location,” Strong said in a press release. “With all the new development in the area, and new opportunity arising out side of the neighborhood, we made the decision to leave.”
This announcement comes at a time when East Liberty is being infused with development, a change many credit Strong and his partners in 7th Movement Development, LLC for starting. The sentiment of many in the community is that Black businesses owners are being forced out of the newly revitalized neighborhood to make room for others, but in an interview with the Courier Strong said, “I’m sure history will be able to tell that story.”
“There’s a better opportunity for us elsewhere and with the arrival of development in the area it kind of felt like we did our job and it’s time to move on to another area,” Strong said. “For us this is just a better investment for long term.”
Filmmaker Chris Ivey has been following the redevelopment in East Liberty since 2005, when he was hired to document the demolition of high-rises in the neighborhood. Though he believes the redevelopment has created some negative ramifications, he understands why owners like Strong don’t want to make waves.
“From my point of view, it’s all about keeping diplomatic relations, through all this redevelopment that’s what people are trying to do,” Ivey said. “Even when those (high-rise) residents were being displaced, they were afraid of speaking their mind. I understand why some people feel that intimidation.”
Prior to the Shadow Lounge closing, there were reports of noise complaints against the venue. According to Ivey, the same thing began happening at AVA and a few days ago there were three police vehicles parked outside of the venue.