Archive for the ‘Closing Business in Spokane Valley’ Category

2013-12-16 09.26.41

You would have to be about 70 years old to remember when Halpin’s was not located just west of Sprague and Bowdish since it has been there since 1949. I know that it has always been there for me and I was raised just up the road at Alki and Bowdish, until I was 7, in the same home I bought as an adult 20 years ago. I would guess that I have passed through the light  at Sprague and Bowdish more than any other intersection on Earth.

Actually I do not have to guess since we went up Bowdish to get to the family church each Sunday morning and Sunday night for the first seven years of my life. Just those 4 weekly trips added up to 208 and if you throw in the rest of the Vacation Bible Schools and other special occasions I was escorted to, they probably added up to 208,000. Between church and school, it seemed I spent most of my precious youth trying to stay awake or slyly slip in a nap as I was being taught hundreds of lessons that failed to captivate my attention.

If that were not enough to make Sprague and Bowdish my most visited intersection for life by the time I was 7,  my great grandparents lived a little further up the path at 12th and Bowdish. By the time I came along, Grampa Dean, a logger from Arkansas, was doing lighter work at Appleway Florist and Granny Dean seemed to always be babysitting me.

Probably the best and worst part about spending so many precious moments of my youth passing north and south through the Sprague and Bowdish intersection was the Dairy Queen located where the loan business is now. This was long before we had a Baskins and Robbins or anyone had ever heard of frogurt. Remembering how much I loved the Dilly Bars and Mr.Misty floats always made it the best intersection. Realizing we were not stopping to fulfill my fantasies, made it the worst.

Always there just beyond the queen was  Halpins, with its Treasure Room and its regal sign towering just below the massive red “H”.  It was there the whole time of my youth and adult life. In the old days there were six independent drug stores, which slowly dropped off one by one until there was just one. For several years Halpins stood alone, the remaining mom and pop drugstore, though they craftily survived by also becoming a gift store.

Times change as economics and advertising and the internet lead consumers  in other directions. But when an old tree falls , it makes way for another to grow up. The one bright thing concerning the loss of Halpins is that the large and mostly empty building will not be empty for long, which seems to be the fate of an alarming number of  buildings along Sprague over the past several years.

Brad and Julie Markquart, who opened their first Complete Suite Furniture store in the Valley in 1998 have bought the building and are busy remodeling the old Halpins into their 7th retail location and the lower part of the building into warehouse space. Obviously, they are go-getters and I hope their success lasts at least as long as Halpins’, longer in fact.

I root on all new business ventures  but I also mourn the favorites a bit when they close and I try to remember the ones from the past. The people and places we love do not go on and on like the roads we travel to get to them. But at least there is some kind of comfort, though it goes unnoticed and unappreciated mostly, from travelling along the roads and through the  intersections that were laid down long before my great-grandparents arrived in town, and will be here long after we are all gone.

Brad Markquart is hoping to open Complete Suites here in February.

Brad Markquart is hoping to open Complete Suites here in February.


Look carefully at the picture above. It is a masterpiece to the eyes of a hungry man’s empty paunch. At the center of this classic you see a pulled pork sandwich, my standard first choice at every new opening that dares to put this American staple on their menu. Mama Doree’s rendition easily manhandled the anticipation that always bursts inside my head as soon as I realize I am about to see if some new place can pull off their pulled pork promise.

To the lower right of the main attraction is as tasty a squash casserole as you will ever slide your fork into. You immediately know that this is the kind of food you came to expect when you went and ate at which ever family member cooked really good. Personally, I was blessed with a grandmother, named Grannie as far as I was concerned, and a mother, who I always call Mom, that put out this kind of food as a matter of routine. With great family recipes dovetailing with culinary skill and flair they made everything they touched excellent.

The coleslaw in the work of art above reaffirmed what the squash and pork had stated before. It was just right tastefully and texturally while being different and unique and so I knew it was another tried and true family recipe. The cornbread also had the taste and feel of generationally great grub.

Then came the blueberry cobbler which by now had a lot to live up to. The bar set and raised by each of the previous selections was easily sailed over by this clean up batter of a dessert, a walk-off home run cobbler. It was just the kind of dreamy meal-ender I always saved just a sliver of stomach for every Sunday dinner at my Grannie’s table growing up.

Turns out that Mama Doree is the grandmother of Frank Hunter, owner of the new place. It looks as though the idea is to sell to the drive-thru customer at least as much as to the dine-in crowd. My meal which included everything pictured, drink and all, was $1o.95 and was dished into to-go containers as I made my selections to the server on the other side of the buffet line. Think KFC buffet line dished up like at Subway, but think of your Gramma’s finest going on the plate.

I hope the Valley rises to this new dish man’s opportunity in Veradale, which has become something of a Bermuda Triangle for eateries, having swallowed up the likes of the Staggering Ox and an A & W in the last year or so. Porky G’s sadly being the most recent new business to vanish shortly after entering the quadrant.

The building at 14787 East Sprague, home of the new Mama Doree’s, is itself the exact spot of a few strange and mysterious disappearances. Please let this not be the case this time. If everyone would skip their next meal at one of the big chains that soar like giant trees choking off the sunlight from the independent local seedlings that try to take hold below, and give Mama Doree’s a try, they would be fine.

The idea of stopping by my beloved Grannie’s home and picking up a quick dinner to take to my home is a dream that I can only pray comes true in heaven. Until then, I hope Mama Doree’s is there to help satisfy my longing for my grandmother and her divine cooking and make the wait a little easier to endure and a tad more tasty.

(The Luxury Box bon voyage party will be Friday the 24th. They open at 3 and will go, as Tina says “Until whenever.” She hopes people will come in and say goodbye.)

On April 25, 2010 I posted my first blog. It was on the opening of The Luxury Box in the Spokane Valley where Percy’s Americana Cafe had been and The Golden Hour before that. Now my 70th blog, coming approximately two years later, is on their closing at the end of February. It is not what I hoped for Tina Bishop and her family. They put their hearts into it and I would say that Tina put in more hours than most owners, by quite a bit.

She sat down with me last night at her restaurant and told me that they had decided on Sunday to pack it up. She said that while her banquet facility had done well, the restaurant and bar were never money makers. She also said that they were hoping to keep the banquet part of the business going if they can work out a deal with the landlord.

Before they opened, I barely knew Tina but I became a friend and supporter as well an admirer of her work ethic within the first few months. Because of that, I feel bad that it did not work out as she had hoped. I know from personal experience that it is very painful to walk away from something that you have invested so much emotion and effort and time and money into. But I can also attest to there being an afterlife, which Tina will flourish at as she continues with the event planning career she has done well at for years. I am not worried about her future, just a bit sorry for what she has passed through.

For me yesterday afternoon was the definition of bittersweet. Before I happened to go into The Luxury Box to meet a couple of friends for a drink, I had spent an hour or so interviewing Fred Lopez who is getting ready to open his new place, The Ref, at the end of the month. Fred is going to make a very good feature  for my newsletter because he has a great story and his new place and the ideas that he has for it are pretty exciting.

The only reason that I got to know Fred recently was because of the last blog that I wrote in which I announced the closing of Holly Rock and talked about the great risks of getting into the business. I was a bit pessimistic perhaps in my references in the blog to The Ref’s imminent opening and Fred took exception to it in a comment.

He also invited me to come in and meet him and see what he was planning. I did on Monday and was impressed by him and his ideas and what he is about to unfold for our pleasure and his profit. We set up a meeting for my interview the next day.

Both Tina and Fred know that I would have all but begged them not to have entered the game. It looks fun but the waters can be treacherous. Back when we owned The Rock Inn, I remember being amazed by what a commonly held dream it was to own a place.  People were constantly coming up to me and telling me about their dream of opening a bar or sandwich shop or bistro.

I think a lot of people are creative and enjoy hosting parties and entertaining guests and so the hospitality industry looks like a lot of fun. And it can be a lot of fun, but it can also be deadly . It always reminded me of a story Elaine’s brother told me that he lived through when he was a young man of about 19 in the Coast Guard based on the Puget Sound.

He said that one day he and two friends decided to go swimming in the ocean. They each had an inner tube and they soon drifted a hundred or so yards from shore. Everything was going fine until they got caught in a riptide. The riptide carried them around its large oval path and even though they tried as hard as they could,  they could not get out of it.

They knew that they were in serious trouble and were scared for their lives. To their horror they saw a fourth friend swimming out to join them. He said they waved their hands and yelled at him to go back but he did not understand, it looked like they were having fun. They were out at the far side of the riptide’s deadly circle as they saw their friend get snatched up by it.

It took a long time but they finally got connected up with the fourth guy and they all struggled in the tide together. Hours passed, the four of them grew exhausted as they struggled to get out. A crowd formed on the beach and the Coast Guard brought out a boat. The riptide’s path shifted and they would pass so close in shore that people were actually reaching out and trying to grab them as they went by. The boys would try to stand up in the shallow water but the current was so powerful that it knocked them off their feet.

The coast guard boat was able to attempt rescuing them just one at a time as they passed on the ocean side of the riptide’s path, but even that was very dangerous as they were only able to shoot out a rope to them and by then the swimmers had prescious little strength remaining. Elaine’s brother was the last one in the tide’s grip and he told me that as he went around close to shore he no longer had any thing left and he let go. As he gave up and sank into the shallow water, someone was able to reach out and grab his arm just before he let go of his breath. Two of his friends made it to the Coast Guard boat but the one kid that they tried to warn off did not and he drowned.

While that is a dramatic and tragic story, it was the one I thought of as I was struggling so hard at the beginning of our time at the Rock Inn and I would see other people opening up places in the Valley. In the four years we were at there, The Edge, just down the road went through four owners, Panama Jack’s went through four and Medley’s went through two. And those were just the places on Sprague that opened after we opened our place.

But that is not to say The Ref will ever go under. I hope Fred does well and I believe that he has a much better chance than most given that he has other succesful businesses and owns the building. But I will keep warning others that, while The Ref may be doing very well and Fred may be having fun, most of the seeminly great opportunies in the hospitality industry are  really waters churning with deadly hidden currents.

The Ref will open Tuesday March 6th.

To read the feature story I wrote on Fred after I wrote this blog, click here.

Last October I blogged on the eminent opening of 2 new bars, Holly Rock and The Ref,  in the Spokane Valley. The Holly Rock opened late that month but not so The Ref. In other words, the people at The Ref are still having fun spending thousands of dollars creating their vision of the next version of a sports bar the world has been waiting for , while the people at Holly Rock are losing thousands of dollars as their eyes well up with tears, blurring out of focus whatever remained of the vision that inspired them to get into the hospitality trade.

While my voice may sound cynical, it is a viewpoint that cost me a lot of money and tears to acquire. So well I remember 9 and half years ago as we excitedly worked at getting ready to open the Rock Inn. It was exhilarating to meet lots of new people from salesmen to band members to soon-to-be-customers. I painted the building, resurfaced the parking  lot, bought a new sound system, and spent thousands on buying the existing business. We couldn’t wait to take over and start counting all the money.

We finally got our liquor license on Halloween night and it was over the top. The next two years, in fact, were over the top with great crowds packing out the dance floor every Friday and Saturday night. But all the money we were counting went into everyone’s hands but ours. It took us a full two years to begin to make a profit and that was only because we were willing to work harder than I’ve ever seen any other owners work.

I fervently hope that the Ref owners make money from the get-go. But I am afraid it will be rough going because beyond my own experience, I have watched very closely every place that has opened in the  Spokane Valley for the past 10 years and have spoken to most of the owners and become acquaintances with many and friends with more than a few. The story is always the same just about every time.

I guess to prove my point , fate delivered me a sad example between the few days since I began writing this blog and now as I sit down to complete it. Just last night as I sat among the revellers at Iron Horse’s 15th anniversary celebration I learned that Holly Rock closed last Friday. A friend told me he had just talked to Scott Lane (the landlord and owner of Hotties) who told him he just got it back from them. That means they lasted about 90 days. I rest my case.

That does not mean The Ref will not last a long time. There is a good chance we will all be celebrating their 15th anniversary 15 years from now. Another person that I visited with last night was Mike Robb, who runs the Iron Horse with his wife Patty. He had told me before that it was very rough there at the beginning and that it took them two years as well to get established and begin making a profit.

From all that I have heard of the Ref’s owners, they have the most important ingredient to making it in the hospitality industry: deep pockets, lots of dinero, capital with a captital C. From what I’ve seen they are spending lots of it transforming their 8,000 square foot space , which they own ( another hugely key ingredient), into a place the Valley can go to spend money and enjoy themselves. And though had they asked my advice I would have said don’t do, I still hope they beat the odds and create a great success that keeps building and building. I know I will be a fan of The Ref.

The Ref Update:  The Ref will be open Tuesday, March 6th. You can read a full article I wrote on Fred for our newsletter by following this link.
Also you can like their page on Facebook or join their group.

While I think getting into the business is a bad idea, I think they have some good ideas. This oval bar is one of them.

This cement bar top is another great idea. Easy to maintain and it'll last forever. Here's to hoping the same for The Ref .

Holly Rock Update

I would have let this blog rest but somebody from the Holly Rock contingent sent me a comment about half an hour after I posted . They said:

“please check your information before blogging, Hollyrock was doing amazing, until Mr. Lanes decided to violate the lease agreement and contract and forcefully remove us from the building. Hollyrock is in no way dead we are just in the process of relocating”

In my reply I told them I had gone to talk to Scott before I wrote the blog but he wasn’t around but the bartender gave me an earful. I really did not care to hear the whole story, I’ve heard it all before. The characters are different, the stage and the props are different but it is still the same old story:

New blood comes into a place with big dreams and some cash, they are so excited getting ready to open. They open and the first night is a blast. Then the reality of what they just got themselves into starts to slowly creep in as they see things like how ugly and sad people are when they get drunk, and how depressing an empty bar is on a Sunday or Monday night . Things really start to get bad after a few months of taking in some times thousands less than it takes to run the place. That is when the new owners start looking for ways of getting out. If they are lucky they find one and it is nearly always the landlord fault.

I saw that same exact movie four times after we left the Rock Inn. Some of the details were different, but the beginning and middle and ending were remarkably similar and Jack Riley, the landlord was always the badguy.

So after getting this comment, I went to down to talk to Holly Rock’s bad guy, Scott Lane. The jist of what he said was that the owners of Holly Rock told him on around the first of February that they would be vacating the premises after they held a big party after Mardi Gras. That made Scott mad and so he told them that he would be taking back his liquer license that they had been operating under since they opened.

Some of it doesn’t quite add up but over all it sounds about right. Holly Rock could have fought it hard if they wanted to and why did they never bother to get their license. Scott could have worked with them and made a smoother transition for himself instead of getting the place back in his lap overnight. But I really don’t care about all the details. Whether the people at Holly Rock want to believe it or not, I still say it was the same old story and they were lucky that it was a short story. And if they are serious about a part two, they can march right back down to our old place where they were originally going to open at Sprague and Vista. That old building is like a haunted theater that keeps replaying the same old scary movie.

Landlord gets the business back in the middle of the night, his building has been improved while he was away... I am just sure I've seen this picture before.

Lastly, go back up and check out the comments where Fred Lopez, owner of The Ref ,blasts the Scoop and the Scoop sends  back a savory salvo.

I was sad to see two Valley hospitality establishments did not make it into the 2012. Both Victoria’s Espresso on Pines and T Prano’s  on Sprague near Bowdish have been around for perhaps as long as 10 years ( though T Pranos was known nearly all that time as Pinnochio’s.) Small independent eateries are like marriages in that they often dissolve after years of weathering the trials of life.

On a brighter note, Monica Sanders and her Love at First Bite  cupcake bakery just down Sprague a ways from T Pranos is going like a batter out of hell cooking up as many as 20 dozen each day. Elaine and I stopped in Saturday around 2 in the afternoon and found her display case nearly empty as she appeared from the back with a batch of freshly baked  Red Velvet reinforcements which another waiting customer and I snatched  two of before they could take their  place on the front lines.

It has been an ongoing battle each day to keep enough of her sweet ammo stocked up to meet  the onslaught of daily desserters  who come in each day seeking her little nummy-nummer bellybombs. She told us that since this was her first year she did not know what to expect and was told not to expect much in January. But it turns out she is doing way better than she or anyone else guessed that she would and has been caught on more than one occasion with her apron  down.
I guess I have been in La La land these past few years and was not aware that cupcakes have been making a run on doughnuts for the top pastry snack. Saturday’s outing brought me up to speed fast. On the one hand I was flabbergasted that this one-woman shop tucked away in an easily overlooked strip-mall location could sell so many cupcakes by 2 in the afternoon.
On the other hand, as I devoured this small but heavenly gourmet-level snack that only cost $2.50, I could see why cupcake shops like Monica’s have sprinkled across America in recent years. And on a final hand (if one is allowed to have more than two), I learned that the Spokane Valley has a very crafty and talented soldier fighting keep up with our demands, helping us to win the cupcake war but perhaps not so much with our battle of the bulge.

Monica Sanders, a Columbian native married to a Valley firefighter, said her husband inspired her to create a job she loved showing up at each day. Though she does not have a website, her Facebook page has 1,131 fans that get daily updates on the twelve flavors, out of 80, that she baking that day.

We had to take a few home. Clockwise and tummyfoolish: guava cheesecake, lemon huckleberry cheesecake,german chocolate and red velvet. They ate as good as they looked.

Facebook page: Love @ First Bite
Love @ First Bite Desserts on Urbanspoon

Below is a blog that I wrote when Cactus Jack’s closed down. This January Bumpers re-opened the bowling area and put in lots of  kiddie arcade games in front. The bowling area is already doing well and they are soon to open a minature golf course. It will be down in the lower area just west of the lanes.

They are waiting on their liquor license to open the bar and have no current plans to open the casino. It should be the ultimate place for family parties just as soon as they open the bar so Mom and Dad can slip off from time to time for a quick nerve-settling shot of booze.

One of my very biggest pet peeves is the human propensity to revel in the give and take of hearsay, rumor, gossip, innuendo, or whatever you want to call the passing of some juicy tidbit from one person to another. Like the habit of smoking cigarettes or sending money to Jimmy Swaggert or the making and the watching of the JackAss movies, the inane passage of gossip from someone who is sure they got their juicy details exactly correct to an eager listener who is equally sure they are hearing the gospel truth is one more proof that we are a species capable of complete stupidity.

On the one side you have the dispenser of gossip. It seems to me that we get a  positive charge that flows through our bodies  when we believe we are dispensing a piece of gossip that our listener is hearing for the first time. It is a bit like a hunter bagging a trophy. As we deliver our salacious revelations, our sails fill and billow like a Buddha’s belly as we watch the amazement spread across the face of our audience. We love to shovel crap into the empty caverns of our listeners’ minds as though we are giving them something of great value. In a sense we are because they will be able to go forth and get their own rush when they spread our newsworthy tripe.

Then on the other side you have the receiver of the gossip, the listener. That a person even listens to gossip proves they are foolish and weak. I could not compose a more profound sentence, nor write one less believed. Adults love gossip like kids love a robust fart: they love to pass them and those little stinkers  are  always fun to hear.  Gossip and farts, however, are no more than the stinky vapors of crap. People simply do not understand that humans are poor communicators. They don’t say things clearly, and they don’t hear things clearly. Most would give that premise lip service but when it comes to the gossip, most believe that their friend got their facts right,  and furthermore that they heard them right. We simply want to believe.

I owned a bar for 4 years and nothing that I learned in that time made me ashamed of people more than the free-flowing give and take of crap. I could go on and on because Elaine and I were somehow fair game the entire time we owned the Rock Inn. I think it was mostly because people are petty and stupid and cruel, but that is just a guess.

One night my aunt  came into the Rock Inn and she took Elaine aside and said that she had to come in and  find out if what she had heard was true. With her eyes filled with tears, she asked Elaine if  we were separated and only pretending to still be together for the sake of our bar. She said that her daughter-in-law, my cousin, had told her that. Elaine told her we were still happily together.  But it made  Elaine cry as well  to know that such an ugly rumor would be out their about us, let alone that it would ever pass between people we loved.

Another night a good friend of ours came into the Rock Inn and was surprised to see that I was still working there. She told Elaine that she had heard that I had gotten some young girl pregnant and had moved to Walla Walla. Elaine was dumbfounded and hurt and sad that anyone could be so gullible. This friend had known us for many years and we had never demonstrated anything to her other than we were completely in love. But someone who she knew not as well as she knew us let fly with some flatulence of gossip and she just had to believe in the crap and not in her friends.

Elaine was always having to squelch the rumor that we did cocaine. Though we are no angels, cocaine was something we both feared and always stayed away from and yet for years people told us they knew that we were cokeheads. One customer who was actually a cop got into a heated argument with Elaine because he supposedly knew for a fact that we did coke. He had absolutely no proof other than he had heard we did the stuff.  Another supposed friend believed this rumor so strongly she recreated her own memories to support what she wanted to believe. When she  argued the issue with Elaine she actually told Elaine she remembered doing lines with Elaine in our women’s bathroom. When Elaine blew up and told her she was  a complete liar, the woman stopped and thought about it and admitted she was wrong and realized she never had actually seen either one of us doing the drug.  I doubt, however, that it stopped her from retelling her made-up story.

And so when I heard two moist and pugnent bits of gossip from good and trusted friends this week I said to myself that while I may really like these guys, I hate gossip and do not believe anything that I hear no matter who I hear it from. I may love the bearer of gossip and enjoy the titillating tidbit as much as anyone, but my life has taught me caution in regards believing anything that I hear. And so I reserved judgement until I could find out for myself.

As proof that I am right  consider this:  on Saturday I ran into a great friend who owns a distributing company  . He told me that the Rock on Trent had traded hands again. My friend is in the loop on such goings on because his company is a distributer to the Rock and all the other bars and restaurants and yet when I went there myself two days later, I found  that what I heard from my insider friend was wrong. He might have said that the old owner was getting two new partners but I would have sworn he said that the Rock had switched hands for the umpteenth time. What I heard him say was the old owner had sold out, the truth is that the old owner took on two new partners and they are having a big celebration Saturday with the grand opening of a new volleyball court connected  to the old patio.

As further proof to my premise that people are full of farts if not plain old crap, today a Valley bar owner told me that Players and Spectators just closed. So I was surprised when I called the place and a voice answered the phone. I said I heard from a reliable source that they had closed. No, he said, they had not  closed though they had changed the name to Cactus Jack’s a few weeks before and the casino portion of the business did shut just this very day.

While  I guess there was some truth to those two rumors, they were pretty inaccurate considering how fresh and relatively direct they  were. Had they had the chance to circulate from cellphone  to cellphone and bar stool to bar stool a few days or weeks, who knows how far off they would have been. People don’t seem to understand that when it comes to talking about others that accuracy matters not to mention fairness. Close is not good enough and a lie believed in is still a lie.

My experience with rumors has been so ugly and hurtful that I will always be ashamed of anyone who tries to bring me one that might shed a harmful light on its subject. The truth is that whatever crap someone wants to spread about another person is not as ugly to me as their desire to spread crap. And that is something all will nod in agreement with as they carry on their way stimulating themselves with the irresistible urge to share shit.

Update: It turns out that the inaccurate rumor that I heard about Player’s on Monday became accurate the following Sunday. I drove by the place shortly after hearing the news to see for myself. There was a lone white pickup with a long trailer in the parking lot and so I pulled up to find Cactus Jack himself, cowboy hat and all, getting ready to pull out. He told me that he had had enough of the local government taking 12% from the gambling right off the top.

Through the years I have heard a lot of different things about the guy but never took anything to heart nor formed any conclusions having never even met the man myself until Sunday. All I knew from that meeting as he spoke with dissapointment in his eyes and bitterness in his voice was that this was another sad story of high hopes and big dreams slowly shattered apart by a myriad of unforeseen factors and  greedy state and local governments. Having gone through my own version at the Rock Inn, I found myself feeling very sad and reminicent as I watched him slowly drive away from his shuttered business and the huge investment of time and money it represents.

Ironically the date was Sept. 4, exactly one year after this story appeared in the paper.

I often wonder how places can keep their doors open when it is obvious they are not making a profit. Scotty’s, which closed a few weeks ago on Argonne appeared to be doing better than some that continue to defy gravity. Many years ago I stopped trying to figure Scotty’s out. To me it did not seem to be a big enough place to turn enough tables to make it a profitable venture. Since it seemed to stay fairly consistent through the years, I just figured the owner had other sources of income and the business was at least paying it’s own way.
Given that the doors were finally closed with the owner reportedly in debt, chances are that the place never did make a profit in all the years (around 8, I think) it was open. It would surely shock anyone who has never owned a small business how many small businesses operate without the benefit of a profit. In the restaurant/bar industry it is probably realistic to say that more small independents are not making a profit than are.
But that seems to be impossible for people to grasp. I have watched over and over again as someone threw their lifesavings at a venture with odds far greater for failure than success. I talked to the guy who came into the Plantation right after we had been kicked out. I assured him that he needed to have enough money put aside to get through a year or two of no profit. He looked at me like I was crazy and said he planned on making money from the day he opened. He was obviously mistaken because he only lasted 6 months.
We were still at the Rock Inn when Scotty’s opened and I remember wondering why would they spend $250,000 to remodel the old Wolfy’s so that they could give the Valley another watering hole and themselves a money pit. I guess they were just dying to play the game. I have a very strong feeling their initial investment was never recouped.

Now I see where someone is going to open an Oriental buffet at the old Mojo location behind Shari’s on Sullivan. I also heard the owners of the fitness center behind Owens Auction are planning to put in a sports bar in the strip mall between them and the auction’s space. That one so far is hearsay but the Oriental place is taking place for sure. The sports bar will likely come to fruition because it seems like such a fun business to be in.
They should talk to a friend of mine who bought into the industry at a well known Valley location not long ago. There he is tied to a long term lease with thousands of his savings sunk into a building he doesn’t own. “What was I thinking?” he said. “I would love to have my life back like it was before we got into this.” He can get out of the lease by filing bankruptcy or gut it out for another 8 years or so like Scotty’s did. Either way, his money and life as he knew it are long gone.

The hastily written sign taped on the front door of the Fubar said “closed for roof repairs”. That is the proprietor’s official excuse for having locked the doors mid January.  Having operated our nightclub, The Rock Inn, for nearly four years in that building, Elaine and I can attest to the dilapidated condition of the building’s roof. It is as neglected as a drunk sleeping at the bar.

I remember the worst night we had. It was a December weekend night and so we had a nice 30 person  Christmas party scheduled in the banquet room, a 70-person in another area  and our niteclub was packed. We probably had about five leak spots that required pans to catch the steady drips. The bad part was that one of those pans had to be placed right in one of the chairs at the the table of the 30 person party and one had to be conspicously placed next to the Au Jus sauce on the buffet line of the larger party. The smaller group happened to be our attorneys office and the larger group was from the county courthouse and so there were several judges and prosecutors and their staffs.

It never dawned on us to ask them if the drips they had to endure might be a way for us to wiggle out of our lease. But then why should we want to do that, we were packed and the place was making money. We just called the landlord who sent his handyman out in the middle of the downpour and sure enough the guy got all the leaks patched up. Turns out he had a lot of experience at patching up that roof.

That night was probably six winters past and it was in dire need of a new roof back then. The landlord had been patching leaks for years. A large section had been covered years before with cheap rolled roofing, the type used on old barns and outbuildings. But that was good enough to get by, I guess, and avoid putting out $30k to $40 for a new roof.

Under normal conditions the roof does not leak even when it is raining. But when the conditions get like they were in mid January this year or like they were for us that night then all hell breaks loose and it is like someone turned on the fire sprinklers inside. It basically takes a good snowfall followed by warm and heavy rain. The water gets pooled and puddled up and finds all kinds of places to seep into the building.

For the owner of the Fubar, it was the perfect storm. It was a blast of wet and warm weather that delivered him from a very cold environment. They had opened at the beginning of July and by mid-January they were looking for a way out and it came from above. I know what it takes to make money at that location and they were a long way from it.

I wish the Fubar owner success at walking away from the lease. He is just the last in a very long line of misguided dreamers that the landlord has seduced into thinking that building was a goldmine waiting to happen. Besides our last two years there, I truly doubt that there has ever been a profitable fiscal year there since the original owner passed away more than 20 years ago. There have been four unfortunate, money-losing ventures come and go there in the 4 years since the landlord gave us the boot. I don’t believe in grudges and I say let bygones be bygones. But I can’t help but root for the Fubar and hope they become the first escapees from that building and that lease, which I know has broken and bankrupted more than a few dreamers. Let the landlord fix his roof and say goodbye to the one that got away.

(This something I wrote a few years ago to set the record straight. It has been buried with no link on my website ever since.)

Many times I have been presented with incorrect theories as to why we left the Rock Inn from people who seemed to not realize they were talking to the one and only authority on the subject. Perhaps, even my wife ,Elaine, does not  know exactly why I decided it was time to move on.. It was my call and this is why I made it.

The biggest misconception was that our landlord, Jack Riley, raised the rent so high that we could no longer afford to stay there. While it is true that he wanted $1,000 more a month than I wanted to pay, we could have afforded it.

We had an option in our original 3-year lease, to sign up at $5000 for another 3 years,and then $6,500 for the next three years after that. After seeing the realities of the business I determined that original agreement was more than I wanted to pay. So rather than signing up for the second 3 year term, I went month-to-month and tried to get Jack to renegotiate. After 8 months,  he finally said pay $5500 and sign a three year lease or get out in 10 days and that was his perogative. He could not understand why I would opt to leave rather than pay his price. The truth is I had a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with his price.

The biggest one was as simple as wanting to do better at the most important role in our lives. We have 4 kids who never saw us. When we got into the Rock our oldest was 13 and our baby was only 7. During the 4 years there, we did not have more than maybe 10 family dinners and not once were we home for a Friday or Saturday night. The only time I spent  with my children is when they worked down at the Rock. When deciding whether to sign another 3 year lease or not, that was the biggest factor … by far.

Another huge factor was the industry itself. I could see a big difference in the ring-outs on a weekend night from when we started to when we ended. In the beginning people simply drank more. As time wore on and the cops became more and more determined to

inforce the dui law, it truly affected our bottom line. That was a trend I did not see going away.

In connection with this there was the moral dilemma of being in a business that profited from putting our customers at risk. The more they drank the more money we made which put them at more risk of getting a dui which no one can afford. The regulars were our friends and we did not want to see them suffer and we did what we could to look after them, but often they were their own worst enemy and we were there to help them be just that. That was something we never got used to.

Another deciding factor was simply quality of life. While I did not mind working almost 80 hours a week to make the place succeed, I also realized that is the way workaholics are and that it was not healthy. Especially when the place you work is a bar and part of your job is having a good time with the customers.

Many people think that we simply failed in business and that no one could make it at that location. The Plantation locale at Sprague and Vista has seen a lot of failure in the past 20 years. One business neighbor believed the current occupant, Club Max, is number 16.

Ripley’s, which came right after us, was open about 6 months. Since Rose Townsend passed away in 1986, no one that  I  know of has made it as long as two years. We set the record at 3 years, 8 months and we left not because we failed, or that Jack raised the rent

too high. That location is tough because of the age and size of the building. But we proved it can go if you are willing to dedicate your life to it. But there in lies the rub: after nearly four years I was no longer willing to dedicate my life, my wife’s life and our family’s life to making the Rock Inn succeed.

We were well on our way to getting established and were making money when we closed, but I had come to the conclusion that the high price for success at that location was more than a father of four should pay. I look at it that Jack did me a favor by wanting more than I was willing to pay. It cost us a lot financially and emotionally to walk away but it was a decision I have never second guessed.