ERIE, Colo. — A warm and powerful cheer filled the air as the doors opened at Miners Tavern on Homecoming Day, just one day before the owners shut down the bar indefinitely.
The tavern has been around for nearly a century, but it didn’t survive the pandemic.
Mark Rockwell, the co-owner of the tavern, bought the bar in November 2019, just four months before the pandemic swept the nation. The latest decision to shut down on Saturday marks the third closure, and he believes this time it could be permanent.
“It is soul-crushing to have to tell these people, 'sorry, you don’t have a job anymore,'” Rockwell said.
Miners Tavern opened in 1926 in downtown Erie, a coal mining town. At the time, it was home to more than 40 bars and restaurants. The bar serves up beer, fries and what locals call one of the best burgers in town.
“It’s a landmark and the best burger around, and it’s just always been a homey spot to hang,” Nancy Dekoin said.
Dekoin moved to Erie 30 years ago. She said at the time Miners Tavern was only one of about four bars downtown.
Juli MacKenzie sat outside with Dekoin and another friend waiting for the tavern to open. She moved to Erie in 1988. MacKenzie recalled the various bands that played at the bar throughout the years and long nights of dancing.
“Oftentimes, we would come down on Wednesday because it was free burritos or tacos, so we joked that our kids grew up here,” MacKenzie said.
Rockwell said keeping the tavern open was a financial burden amplified by wage increases and a struggle to hire staff.
“It’s just one thing after another. There is no end in sight to when the difficulty is going to end,” Rockwell said. “It’s crushing to see it come to an end.”
Rockwell made a decision restaurant owners across Colorado are facing. A survey conducted by the Colorado Restaurant Association found that 1 in 4 restaurants are considering permanent closure. It also reported that more than 67% of restaurants accrued pandemic-related debt, and more than 91% reported they were struggling to hire staff.
At the end of June, the restaurant industry was down almost 11,000 workers compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Rockwell applied for government funding, but once it dried up he said he couldn’t keep absorbing the financial losses. He decided to keep his doors open long enough for one last Homecoming Day.
“I think it’s really sad because I think the restaurants are a reflection of our community and when we have a funky one or we have a cool one, you know, we want them to stay around,” Dekoin said. “It’s ugly, but it doesn’t matter. I kind of like it that it’s an eyesore.”
If the economy turns around, Rockwell said it's possible he could reopen. He's even open to selling the tavern.