Mike McFarland didn’t want the historic Sykes’ Grocery and Market to shut down last fall when the previous owners retired. So he bought the place. Now, with the business consistently operating in the red, he still doesn’t want it to shut down, but for the moment he doesn’t have a choice.
On Aug. 15, patrons ate their last meal at the landmark restaurant. The grocery store shuts down at the end of this week. The pharmacy will remain open. But McFarland is intent on doing everything he can to re-open the restaurant. Most likely, he said, the grocery store is done for good.
“We want to keep it going,” McFarland said. “We’re trying to find financing, financial backing, a partner, anything to keep it open.”
McFarland attributes a variety of reasons to the closing. For one, the business was already struggling when he took it over. The economic downturn didn’t help much either. Also, the grocery store can’t keep up with the big chains that purchase in larger quantities. McFarland had higher prices than other stores and still could barely turn a profit.
“I certainly didn’t blame people for shopping elsewhere,” he said.
Another problem was the building itself. A couple of remodel projects put him back, including renovation on the bathrooms and improving handicap accessibility. Then funds he had hoped to acquire through the city hit a roadblock. Once he started operating in the red he no longer qualified for the funds, he said.
The historic Sykes’ Grocery and Market is a landmark institution in Kalispell. In 1905, Ernest Kuster bought a piece of property on Second Avenue East and opened the market. Then after a series of owners, Doug Wise took the market over in 1945 and eventually added the restaurant in 1976 and the pharmacy in 1981. Wise was well known for never increasing the price of his $.10 coffee.
After 62 years of running the place, Wise, 91, and his wife Judy, 79, decided to retire and put Sykes’ up for sale. Their wish was to find someone who would run the business in the same manner – serving the many senior citizens who frequent the establishment, keeping menu prices low and maintaining the quaint atmosphere there.
Unable to find a buyer, the Wises ended up having to look no further than their Realtor: McFarland. True to what the Wises had hoped for, McFarland kept Sykes’ character, while adding his own flair like live music on Wednesday nights.
“Somehow we’ll find a way to fire her up again and keep going,” McFarland said.
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