West Thunder Cafe closure frustrates Thunder Bay seniors

Some members of the West Thunder Community Centre say they're upset with a decision by the centre's board to close its new cafe.
A group of seniors and other community members gathered Thursday outside the West Thunder Community Centre to find out why the centre's cafe was suddenly closed. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Some members of the West Thunder Community Centre say they're upset with a decision by the centre's board to close its new cafe.

About 25 people gathered Thursday in the centre's parking lot after they found the doors to the building locked. Members of the group said they came to find out why the West Thunder Cafe had been closed 

The cafe was only open for about 10 weeks, but Jake Black said it had quickly become an important part of the community.

“As seniors we do enjoy not only just the food but the fellowship,” he said. “That's so important to get together and to be able to visit and talk over food.”

Gerald Casey added it wasn't just seniors who benefited.

“It's providing a low-cost meal for a lot of people who, frankly, can't afford to pay high prices,” he said.

Centre board chair Beatrice Metzler said the café was losing money.

“Our concern was that, in subsidizing low-cost meals for any group of people, it may take away from other programs that the centre offers, [such as] youth programs, parents and tots, [and] sports activities,” she said.

"We need to be fair to all age groups and to all of the activities within the mandate of the community centre."

Metzler said the board will re-evaluate the café, but it's too soon to say if it will reopen. The café was a trial initiative, she added.

"Now we have to assess whether there is potential for a scaled-down version, or if there's any reason to open it up again that it could provide a service without putting the centre at financial risk."

'It's not fair to us'

Senior Marjorie Casey said people like her thought the café was a great addition to the centre.

“They had lunch on Thursdays and then we just could go directly into [playing] crib, so it was going to be a benefit to us,” she said.

“It gave us a chance to get out and meet old friends that we hadn't seen for a while and now they've taken that away from us," Casey said.

"I think it's important, especially for senior citizens, to have some place to go  that they can meet and talk and get together and we're losing that and it's not fair to us."

Metzler said the café lost money during its first two months of operation "and then it appeared, by the middle of June, to continue to be non-revenue-producing and could possibly be losing money once all the invoices were in by the end of the month. That was too great of a risk for the board to take.”

To safeguard the financial integrity of the community centre, “we needed to end the trial and reassess where we're going with the restaurant."  

Some members of the centre said they were barred from attending the Monday meeting at which the board decided to close the cafe.

Metzler said the meeting began with a closed session, which is required by the organizations bylaws when discussing "people, property or finances, that cannot be fully disclosed at this time." 

"While we opened up the meeting to the public following the closed session, there appeared to be no interest in attending the remainder of the meeting,” she said.

Metzler said the centre currently has about 150 members, up from between 50 and 70 at this time last year — an increase she attributes, in part, to the popularity of the café.


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