3 closures this month: What's ailing rural restaurants?
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Thursday, October 5, 2017 5:21PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 5, 2017 6:33PM EDT
When Waterloo Region’s city-dwellers think of the region’s more rural communities, restaurants are some of the first things to come to mind.
There’s the New Dundee Emporium. The Heidelberg Hotel. St. Agatha has a double dose of country food with Kennedy’s and Angie’s.
Over the past few days, though, the region’s rural restaurant scene has seen an unprecedented among of upheaval.
First came the news that The Blue Moon in Petersburg would be closing. The property had been sold, after more than a year on the market, to a group who plan to use it as a church. The restaurant’s last day of operations will be Oct. 14.
People who were eating at The Blue Moon Wednesday night said they would miss the restaurant, particularly because of its schnitzels and other unique menu items unlikely to be duplicated at other eateries.
“It’s going to be really, really sad,” said Samantha Juhn, who had her wedding reception at The Blue Moon.
“It’s just a nice, relaxing setting.”
A few days after The Blue Moon’s closing was announced came word that the same thing was happening at the Black Forest Inn in Conestogo.
The closure there was effective immediately. Owner Judy Muegge blamed a variety of factors, including the inability to find workers after a six-week summer shutdown, the rising minimum wage, and the road construction the area around the restaurant has seen this year.
“We just feel that we don’t really have the choice,” she said.
Like Muegge, The Blue Moon owner Bev Finnegan says roadwork had a big impact on her business.
Although her restaurant was already up for sale by the time the construction crews arrived in Petersburg, Finnegan says sales dropped by 40 per cent over the typically busy summer months – with the patio showing the biggest impact.
“Usually our patio’s full. We didn’t have anyone out there this year,” Finnegan says.
MaryAnn Melnychuk has a different idea about what’s ailing rural restaurants.
As the owner of the Queens Tavern in Ayr, road construction had nothing to do with her decision to close up shop on Oct. 28 and sell everything at a public auction. The building will be converted into an office for a law firm.
Instead, she points to two major factors: Younger people not being as interested in small-town bars as their parents might have been, and people of all ages being more cognizant of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Melnychuk, who has been at the Queens Tavern for nearly 40 years, says both rural and urban bars are affected by people being less likely to drink and drive – but the location of bars like hers presents a lack of alternatives, which may keep people at home instead.
“If your bar is in the city, there is public transportation and taxis that are not an arm and a leg,” she says.
She also says she sees that young people in particular think having a bar in their community is “no big deal” and are more likely to explore other options.
“They want to see and be seen,” she says.
“They can come and hang out here, but who the heck’s going to see them?”
Whatever the reason for the closures, patrons like Peter Blackburn – who shows up at Queens Tavern once a week with his wife – say they’re sorry to see them go.
“We enjoy just coming down here and sitting and relaxing and having a draught,” he says.
“We’re going to sure miss it.”
With reporting by Tyler Calver