HOBART | As a young man who had enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, Mike Adams’ parents asked him where he wanted his last civilian meal in Hobart.
“I said ‘Country Lounge,'" said Adams, who served 25 years as a Marine and is now executive director of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce. “That is where I had my last civilian meal.”
The 70-year-old dining establishment closed its doors Jan. 1, and some are blaming the state smoking law that went into effect last year. The law bans smoking in most public places such as restaurants.
Adams describes Country Lounge as a “Hobart institution.” The restaurant was re-named New Country Lounge in August 2011 when it changed ownership.
Known as Hunky Hollow in the 60s and 70s, Adams said it was “the place to be.”
“I hope we can do something to encourage them to come back,” Adams said. “They’ve come back a couple times in the past already.”
Located at 3700 Montgomery St., New Country Lounge was open New Year’s Eve. Adams said he and his wife dined there about a month ago.
“It was very busy,” Adams said. “The service was good. The food was good. It was just traditional Hobart.”
Adams said the owners had been searching to find a business model that worked.
“Originally, last July they went smoke free and a large part of their business is the bar,” Adams said. “My impression is that they were not happy with that change. About six week ago they went totally smoking. I think they were looking for something to help their bar patrons to encourage them to come and apparently that was not enough to turn their business around.”
Jimmy Gerodemos, whose family owns the property, said the tenant retired and moved to Florida. Gerodemos said there is some interest in the property for a barbeque restaurant or possibly a gas station but since the property is paid for, there is no rush to fill the vacancy.
Gerodemos blames the state smoking laws for New Country Lounge’s failure. He said the laws have cut the bar business at his family’s Paragon Restaurant in half.
He said his family had been considering opening more local restaurants but “there is no sense in spending $1 million” with the current law impeding such establishments’ success.
Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor said he also has concerns about the smoking law’s impact on local businesses.
“I always want to error on the side of people’s civil liberties and the fact that if they own a property, they own a business and they want to allow smoking in their business, I feel like they should have that right.”
Snedecor said the law should be reviewed possibly allowing smoking in businesses with it marked a smoking facility clearly on the entrance.
“I guess sometimes too much government is bad government," Snedecor said. “I think Charlie Brown’s law went too far.”
Snedecor said the building is a Hobart landmark.
“I know whatever Louis (Gerodemos) choses to do with it will make it a profitable business,” Snedecor said. “He has proved himself as being a very good businessman in town. He has been a long time investor in the community."