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