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Tourist town: To close or not to close in Fenelon Falls

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When the Fenelon Falls business that has survived the longest in one location, under the same ownership first opened, the Cow and Sow Eatery’s Dickon Robinson was repeatedly asked a seemingly simple question: “Are you going to stay open all year?”

Residents had learned that restaurants in the tourist town did not always operate year-round, even if they didn’t really know why. Robinson chose to stay open all year, and 22 years later he still operates 364 days, but the bottom line is not his only motivation.

A block away and entering their third year, Murphy’s Lockside Pub and Patio, owners Jason Lynn and Heather Storey answer that question by closing Mondays and for about a month in late fall. With two-thirds of their seating outside, they are at the mercy of the weather all year. A rainy July day might as well be December to someone hoping to sit on a patio.

With industry-average margins of between three and eight per cent, restaurants rely on volume to generate profits. As the tourist influx becomes an outflux after Labour Day, both owners say there are many days when staying open actually costs them money. Insurance, wages, heating and taxes don’t change with the seasons, and independent Kawartha restaurants routinely pay more for food products than those in Toronto, often also facing a fuel surcharge for delivery.

So why don’t restaurants just shutter the doors at the first snow? Turns out the choice is not solely driven by money.

As Heather Storey puts it, Murphy’s only closes for a month because, “we want to be open. We love our business, we love our customers. This business is our first thought in the morning and last at night.” She goes on to say, “We are ‘locals’ — newly transplanted — but we consider ourselves locals. We would hate to live in a town if all the businesses closed every year. We like to eat out too, and not at the same place everyday.”

The Cow and Sow’s Robinson adds he initially decided to remain open year-round because it reflected what the year-round population wanted. He didn’t expect that it would prove to almost be necessary from a staffing standpoint.

Robinson states one of his biggest difficulties is attracting and keeping quality people. And, after investing considerable time in training an employee, closing for the winter means that you will likely lose them since their bills don’t go away, either. With a small workforce to draw from, finding a reliable employee that represents your operations well is a challenge.

Storey supports that viewpoint. “We cannot risk laying everyone off and scrambling for replacements every spring and maintain the service levels and product offerings we expect for ourselves.”

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Geoff Coleman lives in Fenelon Falls and has been a freelance writer since the time of the Commodore 64. When not fishing or spending time in his woodworking shop, he can usually be found behind a guitar.

6 Comments

  1. I was online looking for some real estate ,when I seen the Cow & Sow is for sale????? What does that say about the Business in Fenelon Falls, You have to be very careful when you are buying a ongoing Business people tend to Cook the Books!! Fenelon Falls is a Summer time Business, that is when you make your money out of the Tourists! Most places reduce days open in the Winter Months or close right up because it is only the locals that keep the places open during the Winter Months! I noticed that their are more Businesses in Fenelon Falls for sale, Chinese Eatery, Light House, Ultr MAR Gas Station, and a number more, it is a tough place to make a living year round, unless you have lots of money in the Bank!!!

    • Just because a business is for sale does not mean that it’s a bad business or that the “books are cooked” people change, lives change and you have no idea what the reasons might be. Your statement insinuates that those selling businesses are somehow underhanded and dishonest. It is insulting and uncalled for. I also have a business in Fenelon and have stayed open year round because I want local business not just the tourists. I’m not interested in just squeezing every tourist dollar to make a buck. I’m also interested in being a part of the community and being available to locals. Yes the winters are tough and we don’t have tons of money in the bank but sometimes it’s not only about making money. It’s about making a life and building your community.

    • Actually grammatically speaking you “saw” not seen…and thanks for the Real Estate updates that I would check myself if I was looking

  2. Hey Bill, you obviously didn’t read the article. Your comments are about money and doing business and “cooking the books”. Well, both people interviewed in the article weren’t exaggerating about all the money they made. In fact it was the opposite. I don’t think anyone was giving a false sense of the situation. Winter is tougher. I think they were all very up front about that. Not sure where the “cooking the books” comment came from. Be careful with those type of slanderous comments.

  3. Funny how some people just have to comment with negativity just to have their opinions published and be proud of it.
    Personally I feel that all the junk cars & hand painted signs-especially the racist ones last Christmas on your business on highway 35 are not a much of an upstanding representation of what Kawartha Lakes is all about. You may think it’s humorous but it’s not

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