He's Not Here stays open despite drop in revenue

hesnot

Dave Kitzmiller, co-owner of He’s Not Here, stands in front of a new mural in the bar’s beer garden. He’s Not changed management in November.

After spending years away from the helm of his bar, the co-owner of a 39-year-old watering hole has returned in hopes of boosting profits and restoring the local landmark to the success of its glory days.

Dave Kitzmiller, 74, said he came out of retirement from his home in Nova Scotia to manage He’s Not Here after he nearly decided to close the bar.

“Until a few months ago, I was seriously considering and had intended to close He’s Not Here December 1,” said Kitzmiller, who shares ownership of the bar with Hillsborough resident Michael Troy. “I didn’t sign my lease. I told my landlord, ‘I’m going to be gone.’”

Kitzmiller replaced former manager and bartender Mark Burnett, a familiar face for those who frequent the bar.

Burnett said he was fired Nov. 3 after spending 33 years at He’s Not.

He said he has since hired an attorney.

Kitzmiller said he stepped into the management role after the bar’s finances continued to spiral downward, which he credited to failure to use social media and poor upkeep of the establishment.

“(Mark)’s an old man, I’m an old man, and we were just taking an old man’s approach, and we weren’t getting anywhere,” he said.

The bar lost nearly 15 percent of its revenue each of the last three years, Kitzmiller said. Although some of it can be attributed to poor economic conditions, the slip started far before the recession, he said.

“Sales have been declining for a long time, but the last five years have been precipitous,” he said.

“I decided to take management myself because I felt in the last five years that we didn’t win many football games, and we always replace coaches.”

Kitzmiller’s current lease will last for the next two years, enough time to see how improvements to the bar’s downstairs and beer garden play out, he said.

“I’m back at this bar because I love it,” he said. “I mean it heart and soul.”

Senior Fleming Fuller, 23, has worked at He’s Not since arriving in Chapel Hill as a transfer student almost three years ago.

Now Kitzmiller’s assistant, Fuller works as a bartender and runs the day-to-day operations.

Fuller said the bar’s record-keeping, beer offerings and customer base have improved since management changed hands, although customers have noticed and asked about Burnett’s absence.

“We’re definitely taking strides to appeal to a younger age,” he said. “I feel by having younger people in higher positions, we understand better what our age group is looking for. We’re just streamlining stuff.”

Fuller said he plans to continue working at He’s Not after he graduates this year. He can’t imagine going anywhere else.

“People come through, and they don’t even get a beer. They just come through to stand here and just sort of remember what they once had,” he said. “When you witness that, its something that’s not replaceable.”

Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu.

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