Pete took over his dad’s restaurant a number of years back. It had been in the family for the last three generations and was the best place in town to eat: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Truth be told, it was the only sit-down restaurant in town. There was a small burger joint down the road, but it was hamburgers and fries, nothing more. If you wanted a good meal, it was Pete’s place or you ate at home.
George was one of Pete’s best customers. He was there first thing every morning for pancakes, cup of hot coffee and talk with the boys. There were a group of five or six guys who came in for breakfast and to talk about what was happening in the community. They also did their share of complaining and, of course, they had their ideas on what should be done to solve the problems facing their community, their state, the country and the world. Then there was the bragging about their kids.
A bulletin broad by the cash register was always full of locals’ accomplishments.
Oftentimes, the boys would return, sometimes with their wives for lunch. And in the evening, at least once a week, they would bring in their family for dinner.
It was like clockwork, until that one fateful day.
George always ribbed Pete about the pancakes being too lumpy or the coffee being cold. He even complained, with a smile, that 50 cents for coffee was “pure highway robbery.” But on that fateful day, the ribbing was no longer with the normal smile.
“You have changed things and your prices have gone up,” George said loudly and sternly. “I don’t like what’s happening and if you don’t change back, you won’t see me come through your doors ever again.”
Pete tried to explain that pancake mix and coffee beans had gone up in price. Everything, including the wages for his staff, had gone up. He had to make changes or be forced to close the doors.
“If that were to happen, you wouldn’t have anywhere to eat, share with friends about the great things your kids are doing, or talk about what the city council did or should have done last night,” Pete said.
George refused to listen. He was not happy with Pete.
A few weeks later, George was mad at Pete again, this time over his addition of more salads to the lunch menu.
“What is with these greens?” he said with his finger in Pete’s chest. “You need to stick with the meat and potatoes!”
Pete tried to explain that the younger customers liked the salads. The meat and potatoes are still there, but there are now more choices.
George was not satisfied, saying he would stop coming.
“I don’t need you,” George said. “I can make my own meals.”
George went out and purchased a supply of frozen pancakes, coffee and other items from the grocery store in the neighboring town.
He also made sure everyone in town, including the morning coffee crowd, knew his feelings and why they, too, should no longer eat at Pete’s place.
The customers began to drop off. At first, it was hard to notice, but as time went by, the decline forced Pete to make changes. He laid-off staff, closed early and stopped serving dinner.
Some were faithful and understood, but it wasn’t enough to offset the losses. And going back to the old ways was not and would not cover the increasing costs.
George didn’t notice, or care, until his youngest daughter won a huge state award. As a proud daddy, he headed down to Pete’s place to do some bragging, but the doors were closed. The local gathering place where he could post her picture with the trophy was gone.
The newspaper business is much like Pete’s restaurant. More than 1,800 newspapers have closed their doors since 2004, according to a UNC School of Journalism study. And like Pete, more and more are closing their doors every day.
Like George, you may not care or notice until it is gone.