BELDING — After serving generations of families in Belding for nearly 40 years, the Driftway Inn restaurant and bar will be closing its doors for good come Saturday.
Citing declining sales and a severe decrease in customers in the last few years, owners Steve and Beverly Hoisington said they can no longer afford to keep the restaurant open for business.
For bartender Jerry Ricks, who has worked at the establishment for approximately 20 years, the closing of the business is something that he says he has yet to come to terms with.
“It really hasn’t hit home yet,” he said. “I think I just want to take a little bit of time after this and reflect.”
Ricks said he could recall having his first legal adult beverage at the Driftway Inn, and then sharing that same experience with his own son when he was also of legal age.
“After 39 years of business, this place has been a staple in this town,” he said. “Kids come in and have dinner with their parents here, and those parent used to come with their parents. Generations of kids have come here, to see it go is just heartbreaking.”
Steve Hoisington’s parents were the original owners of the restaurant in 1973 when the location first opened for business.
Steve and Beverly then bought the business in 1990, which they owned until 2002. In 2008 they repurchased the business, which Steve said was doing fine until state legislation banned smoking from bars in Michigan in May of 2010.
“The smoking ban was the final straw,” he said. “In combination with the local economy being down for several years, we just couldn’t afford to stay open anymore.”
Hoisington estimates he’s lost approximately 40 percent of his average daily business since the law was instituted two years ago.
“People are picking and choosing, being more selective with their choices for where they want to go out at night,” he said.
Hoisington said he believes many of his former customers have moved on to bars further out in the country where there are options to smoke outside.
But Hoisington said that is not an option at the Driftway Inn, stating that he has no way of adapting because space is already limited with parking and there is no room for an outdoor area.
“I’m not a smoker myself,” Hoisington said. “But I would take back the ability to allow smoking in bars in a heartbeat. We can’t make ends meet and before that law was created we never had a problem paying our bills.”
Hoisington said eventually he could no longer pay bands to perform live, which in turn lowered attendance at night even more.
“I used to get anywhere from 120 to 150 people here on our busiest nights,” he said. “It used to be packed in here. But now I’m lucky to get maybe 25 people after 9 p.m. on a Friday night.”
According to Hoisington, one of the other popular attractions of his establishment was playing the Keno lottery game, but he said after the smoking ban was initiated, customers grew tired of having to step away from their Keno game every time they wanted to smoke a cigarette.
Hoisington told his 14 employees about the closing two weeks before the closing date, a conversation he said was one of the hardest he’s ever had with anyone.
“It was not easy telling everyone about this decision,” he said. “We absolutely dreaded the day. This has always been like a family environment here, which makes it even harder.”
Hoisington said he tried several different ways to keep his business open, including decreasing prices and increasing”happy hour” periods of cheaper drinks, but in the end “it wasn’t enough.”
Hoisington said he went as far as violating the state law for one night and allowed people to smoke on the upstairs balcony.
“I had nothing to lose,” he said. “And you know what, we were packed that night. We were busier than New Year’s Eve.”
The following night law enforcement arrived as Hoisington attempted to allow smoking a second consecutive night and forced him to shut down, in accordance with the law.
“To me, that showed me that the law is a problem,” he said. “I wish they could just alter it, maybe keep it nonsmoking until 9 p.m., but to completely take away our right as owners to allow smoking, taking away that freedom, it killed us.”
Hoisington said he hopes to have “one last hurrah” Saturday before he closes the doors for good.
The restaurant’s full menu will be available as well as live entertainment as “Center Stage” performs during the final evening of operation.
“I hope we have a good crowd,” Hoisington said. “Nobody is more sorry about this than we are. We really are going to miss being a part of this community in Belding.”