Late Thursday afternoon, Chris LaMantia joined a crowd of about 20 disgruntled people standing in front of the Brix at Village Pointe shopping center.
“I’ve never seen so many people park in front of an empty store with all the lights off,” LaMantia said.
They were just a handful of the many customers now wondering if their gift cards are still valid after news broke Thursday that both locations of the Brix wine and spirits store and bistro are closing.
“It is with regret we confirm the announcement from Brix that both Brix locations, in Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe, will be closing their doors,” Midtown Crossing spokeswoman Molly Skold said in a statement. She added that she was sure she would be announcing a new tenant soon.
Dan Matuszek, founder and CEO of Brix, has notified vendors that a liquidation sale could start as early as this weekend. Both locations, he told the vendors, experienced sales declines over the past two years along with increased expenses. Remaining in business is not sustainable, he said.
Matuszek said he had been working to sell part of the company, but for one reason or another agreements fell through, the latest on Tuesday evening. Matuszek could not be reached for further comment Thursday. A representative from Village Pointe also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Matuszek told vendors that the closings would be within the next few weeks, but the stores were closed Thursday afternoon, with a “Closed today” sign on the Midtown Crossing door. A sign on the Village Pointe door, LaMantia said, thanked customers for their patronage and directed them to Grane, a craft cocktail bar that Matuszek opened in Midtown Crossing in 2014.
Brix, which opened its first location at Village Pointe about six years ago, combines retail shopping with a food, wine and spirits bistro. The second Brix location in Midtown Crossing opened in 2013.
Both locations feature machines that dispense wine by the glass, accessed by prepaid cards.
Doug Parker, an IT analyst, estimates that he has between $60 and $100 on several Brix gift cards he’s received from friends and family. He also gave the cards out as gifts over the holidays, he said.
“I would imagine there’s probably a lot of people concerned about their cards,” he said.
Many customers voiced their concerns on social media, with some determined to use their remaining balances before the store closes for good, and others vowing to visit the liquidation sale. But late Thursday it remained unclear whether the stores had already closed permanently and whether the cards were still usable or would be refunded.
An Omaha doctor called The World-Herald looking for more information, saying he had received a $100 gift card from his staff for Christmas and was unsure if he could still use it. LaMantia said he contacted Grane on Thursday night for more information and was left on hold for about 10 minutes before he hung up.
Matuszek opened Grane in Midtown Crossing in 2014. Grane’s Facebook page on Thursday had a post saying, “Grane will remain open for business as usual. There are no plans to close Grane and any rumors implying otherwise are pure speculation. We graciously thank every one of you for being our guests and thank you for understanding that there will be no further comments made. We look forward to remaining a staple in the Whiskey and craft cocktail scene in Omaha.”
Jessica Murphy, a law clerk, had her wedding reception at the Midtown Crossing Brix in August. She was “super sad” to hear about the closing, she said.
“I immediately texted my husband, my best friend, my mom and my sister,” she said.
Murphy said she visits the Midtown Crossing location once or twice a month. She and her friends always try to visit for Monday specials, she said.
“Everyone loved it,” she said.
Skold said restaurants and retailers nationwide are facing significant economic headwinds right now.
“The loss of Brix, unfortunately, underscores that point,” she said. “Leasing representatives for Midtown Crossing are actively marketing the space and pursuing an operator who will add to the neighborhood.”
World-Herald staff writer Sarah Baker Hansen contributed to this report.