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Crossroads Restaurant shutters

Karen Martin and Kathy Brox operate The Mercantile, a gift shop inside the the Crossroads building. They reopened this week with curbside pick-up. [Damon Maclean]

Something of an institution in Elmira, At The Crossroads Family Restaurant has fallen victim to the coronavirus crisis, closing its doors permanently.

Like many businesses, the operation went on hiatus following the sweeping lockdown ordered by the province. After weeks of on hold, Anton Heimpel made the decision last week to make the closure permanent.

It was a difficult choice for Heimpel, who’s owned the place since 1996.

“It was hard to know exactly when to make the decision to close down. At first, things sounded very temporary. But timelines just keep getting extended and it’s hard to know when restaurants will be allowed to open up again. Bills keep coming in, expenses pile up, but there is no income whatsoever,” he said in an email.

“The government is offering some help, but so far for small businesses it’s just promises… nothing is actually available yet. The wage subsidy has been rolled out, but no one can apply yet. They are offering money to small business, but it’s still a loan. It will need to be paid back eventually too.”

While some restaurants have remained open to provide takeout and delivery services, that wasn’t seen as a viable option for The Crossroads, said Heimpel, who did offer a takeout service for a week after the initial shutdown, largely to clear out perishable food supplies.

“But eventually we had to decide if we could make that work over the long term and if it made sense to put money into buying more supplies, not knowing whether a full lockdown was on the horizon or what was going to happen next. Our space isn’t really designed well for takeout since buffet has always been our specialty. We also worried about the increased exposure to ourselves and our staff if we continued with the takeout option,” he explained.

At The Crossroads dates back to 1991 when it was opened by Don Brox, but the location has been home to restaurants dating back to the 1960s. It was under Heimpel’s ownership that it saw its biggest expansion, including a makeover of the exterior.

Over the years, the restaurant had become a favourite destination for many, the parking lot often full, including tour buses.

Saying goodbye to all the long-time customers and employees made the decision to close all the more difficult, said Heimpel.

“This is the hardest part of closing down – we will miss our customers and our staff so much. We have sincerely appreciated the support of our loyal customers and our tight-knit community throughout the years. And our staff has always been incredible. Our employees have been like family to us – we often talk about our “Crossroads kids” and just how proud we are of all of them. We’ve employed sibling groups, and parents with their teens, and the kids of people who used to work there many years ago,” he said.

“We’ve seen relationships start at the restaurant that have turned into long term friendships, even some marriages and families. We’ve had the same general manager, Julie Beacom, for almost a decade and we owe so much gratitude to her and the rest of the management team. The staff is really what made the restaurant what it was. We don’t know how to say goodbye, so instead we will just say thank you – thank you for so many wonderful memories. We consider ourselves blessed for having known each of you.”

Long home to a restaurant, that portion of the building will remain empty for now. The owners of The Mercantile, the gift shop adjacent to The Crossroads, plans to continue on. Owner Karen Martin said the operation intends to reopen this week for curbside pickup, available by calling 519-669-9428 or by email (mercantile2001@hotmail.com) – Click here to go to The Mercantile website .

She added they’re eager to get back to full capacity when the crisis has passed.

“As soon as we’re allowed, we’ll be reopening the store,” she said.

The fate of the restaurant portion will likely have to await the recovery as well.

“As for the rest of the building… that’s unknown at this point. It’s certainly set up nicely for restaurant, but that will depend on who steps up and indicates an interest,” said Heimpel, who is assessing his own options at this point.

“My future plans are completely unformed at the moment. I’m focused on closing things down the best way I can for now, and then seeing what might be possible after that. I’ve always loved the food service industry, but I have no idea what the future might hold for me. Being patient and having faith at a time like this is a challenge, but that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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