I have to change the names and the exact location in this next post. Let’s just say it happened in a very busy bar, in a small town where I was living at the time. I worked at a pub right up the street from this bar, and it was always packed.
The owner (we’ll call him Norm) was down-home guy in his early fifties — a great guy, but something of a country rube. All night he’d stand at the end of the bar, drinking bottle after bottle of Rolling Rock. (Back then the Latrobe PA beer was pretty decent, before being bought out and watered-down by one of the corporate giants.)
Anyway, if I had a night off I’d usually end up at Norm’s Pub. Lots of ice-cold beer, people elbow to elbow, and plenty of attractive women. This joint was always a blast.
It looked as though Norm had himself a gold mine. He was probably making a small fortune. He’d built the place up from nothing, and now he’d just stand at the end of the bar enjoying the spoils.
After a year or two of success, however, Norm began slacking off a little.
The men’s room began to look (and smell) as though it hadn’t been cleaned in days. One of the booths had a broken back. Every now and then that back would give way, and suddenly the seat would drop out from under the occupants, and they’d spill their beers. Most of them just laughed, sitting on a booth cushion that was now flat on the floor, but I thought. “Why doesn’t Norm fix it, for cryin-out-loud?”
Then the rug on the floor became worn in one particular spot. What started as a tear quickly became good-sized circular hole — with the cement floor showing underneath, and the frayed, brown edges of the hole calling further attention to it.
And Norm stopped serving those great roast beef sandwiches that the bartenders use to make on a spanking-clean cutting board, using the silver metal slicing machine at the end.
The place was falling apart.
Business at Norm’s Pub began to seriously drop off. It was no longer packed every night of the week. There were no more advertisements for the place in the local newspaper. But through this all, Norm continued to stand at the end of the bar, night after night, as though nothing was wrong. It was like he was turning a blind eye to everything.
“Norm,” I said to him one afternoon, “That booth has been broken for five months.”
“I don’t want to be out of line,” I said, “But this place is getting pretty shabby. And the crowd doesn’t seem to be coming in like it used to . . . . ”
“I’m a little surprised,” I said, “This was the best spot in town. I’m a little surprised you’re not paying more attention to things.”
Norm had been drinking with me as he stood behind the bar; it was early afternoon and there was no one else in the place. Now his bottle of beer paused half-way to his mouth, and he stood there looking at me. He was thinking over what I’d just said. I wondered if he was pissed that I’d brought it up.
Turns out he was simply deciding what he should, or shouldn’t say.
“When I started here,” he told me now, “I didn’t have enough money to open the place myself.”
“So I took on a partner from out of town . . . he put up the cash, I provided the expertise, all the work.”
“I built this place up from nothing,” Norm continued, “And I did it by myself. He never worked one day in here.”
“How do you think that makes me feel?”
“Well, maybe now it’s time for a change,” he said as he set two more bottles of beer down in front of us. “I can make this business rise, or fall.”
“Let’s say I want to buy my partner out,” he said, looking right at me. ‘Why would I want the joint to be booming? I could buy him out for a song . . . if we were losing money.”
Less than a year later, Norm was the sole owner of that bar. And everything about the place — the daily advertisements in the newspaper, the rest rooms, the booths and the rug, and especially the overflowing cash register — it was all back to the way it was before.
I’ve heard to beware of “country lawyers.” It seems “down-home” bar owners can be quite shrewd as well. Interesting snapshot.
Good for Norm.
Llylak: He surprised me, Lly … he was always this laid-back, take-things-as-they-come sort of owner. Never thought he’d be thinking that far ahead, or so thoroughly.
Case: That’s exactly what I thought, Case. I knew Norm, he was a great guy. Didn’t know his partner at all, because the guy never WAS there.
Sounds shady to me; he took on a partner and should have lived up to his contractual obligations.
Colleen: No doubt a bit shady, Colleen … but this often happens when partners have that kind of arrangement, one putting up the money and the other doing all the work. The one who builds the place up usually buys the other partner out. Of course, Norm was making sure he got it for a low price by intentionally letting the business fall off. That’s pretty typical, too. I know what you’re saying, but this is just the way the restaurant business works. (Hey, I’m about to wrap up your surprise gift … aren’t you just dying to know what it is? Guess you have to wait.) 🙂