The Bridle Trails Shopping Center lost a beloved high-school hangout last week when the Dairy Queen permanently closed, two months before the neighboring Red Apple Market is due to close its doors.
“To me, what they’re doing with this complex is breaking up the community,” said Connie, a local who’s frequented the shopping center for 16 years. “We don’t have a good go-to place in the community any longer, it’s a sad day.” Connie requested her full name not be used.
The Dairy Queen was less than a 30-minute walk from Lake Washington High School and according to Kalie Ott, the franchise owners’ daughter, it was a “boys and girls club” for kids to hang out after school.
“I understand it’s a business, they got to do what they got to do,” she said. “[But] I was really surprised they’d do that to a business that’s been here for so long … everyone’s going to miss this place, I think.”
The location opened 30 years ago while Kristine and Cameron Ott have owned and operated it for the last 25 years. They said that final day on Dec. 7 was one of their most successful as community members streamed in to show their support.
According to the Otts, the new lot owner, Retail Opportunity Investments Corporation, didn’t give them a chance to negotiate for a lease renewal.
ROIC President, Stuart Tanz, said they had the opportunity to extend their lease and chose not to.
Red Apple Market, which has a 20-year history in the shopping center, announced last September that it will close its doors in February after ROIC increased the location’s rent to a fair market value.
“I feel really really sad, it [was] a gathering place for the community and there’s just nowhere to go [now],” Connie said. “I think that the loss of places like this breaks up a community, it doesn’t build a community.”
The Chase Bank formerly located within the Red Apple Market, will now occupy the Dairy Queen space.
“Small businesses are getting squeezed everywhere, so it’s disappointing,” said Craig Parthemer, a 20-year customer. “I say this facetiously but it’s like Amazon is taking over the world.”
The Ott family gave up the keys to the building on Dec. 13, but even as they packed up equipment and excess inventory after their last day, they found community support.
Customers trickled into the restaurant and through the drive through not knowing the location was closed. Some were shocked while some simply left. Regardless, the Otts would offer them a Blizzard to help with the news.
“It doesn’t feel real yet, once it turns into a Chase Bank, I think it’ll hit me,” Kalie said. “I remember running around here as a kid before it was remodelled, but it’s just all changing now.”
Cameron and Kristine planned to maintain the location for at least another 10 years and said they don’t know what to do, now that it’s closed. They’re currently debt-free and wanted to eventually sell the business as a part of their retirement.
There’s not a suitable location within Dairy Queen’s distance requirements that the franchise could move to. According to Kristine, a new franchise further away would require a $400,000 loan as they’d have to pay for a new franchise agreement.
The Otts said they thought about opening their own restaurant or food truck, but haven’t had enough time to plan.
Community members tried to help out by starting an online fundraiser and signing up to receive email updates on whatever the Otts decide to do.
“When they’re your customers for 25 years, you build that relationship,” Kristine said. “They’ve been coming here and now their kids are coming here … we just love the neighborhood.”