Saskatchewan

Balgonie diner says business seeing decline in customers after road closure

A diner in Balgonie that has been in business since the 1950s is feeling the pinch after the province shuts down a main access road notorious for accidents and fatalities.

Colleen's Diner feeling impact after province shuts down main access road

Owner of Colleen's Diner points towards the construction in front of her building. (Penny Smoke )

A diner in Balgonie that has been in business for decades is feeling the pinch after the province shut down a main access road notorious for accidents and fatalities.

"We are missing a lot of the highway traffic," said co-owner Colleen Machnaik.

Colleen and Bob Machnaik purchased Colleen's Diner — formerly known as The Diner — about six months ago. The business, which has been a mainstay in the community since the 1950s, is on the corner of the service road and Main Street. 

Owners Colleen and Bob Machnaik of Colleen's Diner in Balgonie, along with their employee Tori in the empty diner. (Penny Smoke/CBC)
We don't care about the right out [access], or we don't care about going across just give us the right-in.- Colleen Machnaik ,  Owner of Colleen's Diner in Balgonie

The pair is wondering if the business will survive much longer after seeing a decline in customers. The access road —located in front of the diner — was closed for over a year was removed last week.

"We don't care about the right out [access] or we don't care about going across just give us the right in."

Colleen Machnaik's Diner sits on the Corner of Main Street and Service Road in Balgonie, Saskatchewan. (Penny Smoke/CBC)

Residents and business owners say the road played a vital role in bringing in highway traffic to the town of Balgonie.

Access to the town has been restricted to the bypass that is located east of town, after another access road that was used for westbound vehicles was closed earlier this year.

This leaves many motorists with only one option to pass the town, and return by using the overpass and backtracking a few minutes to town. 

Not only is the backtrack slowing business for the Machnaiks, but the improvement of the overpass and roundabouts seems to be confusing for some.

The diner has been a mainstay in the town of Balgonie since the 1950s. Now the thought of closure is beginning to feel real as highway customers are becoming fewer and far between, according to the owners. (Penny Smoke/CBC)

"We do get some people that still come. They used to come three times a week —they might only come once now. And then some others are won't ever come back because they had to go through the problem of coming in to begin with."

There have been several occasions where Colleen sent the cook out to help lost motorists find their way back out, because it was easier than trying to explain.

Colleen has also observed vehicles and semis stop on the shoulder using their blinkers to come to the diner.

The road is still available for emergency vehicles, but is locked to all other traffic.

Reduced work hours

Currently the diner employs five to six employees, with the majority of those employees being high school kids wanting to make some money.

Since business has slowed down, Machnaik can't offer more than 18 hours a week for some part-time employees.

The Diner's former owner Dick Champlone, was in business for 12 years prior to selling the diner to the Machnaiks.

He told CBC last October that if the province didn't find an alternative to closing the road he would be forced to shut down.  

The Machnaiks decided to purchase the business from their former boss after he told them he was going to sell the business. The business exchanged hands at the end of last year.

The Dining Room is pretty bare in the only Diner in Balgonie. (Penny Smoke/CBC)

Notorious for crashes

The stretch of highway between Regina and Balgonie is notorious for crashes. It has been a concern for many because of the amount of fatalities over the years.

Since 2008, there have been a total of 478 accidents on that stretch of Highway 1. Eight of those being fatal.

Wanda Campbell is the mother of one of those killed on Highway 1.

Her 17-year old son Lane Campbell Antosh was struck and killed while trying to turn on to the Pilot Butte intersection in 2013.

She is adamant that the safety of the youth and people using the highway is more important than the convenience of being able to save some time off of driving time.

"They are dangerous intersections. They have been deemed dangerous by the Department of Highways in 2014," Campbell said.

"I just don't understand why they would continue to protest the closure, they haven't lost a child."

Machnaik said she understands the concern over the safety were valid, but wants to point out that she is not asking the province to reopen the Main Street access road, but rather to give Balgonie a right in for all westbound highway traffic.

She just doesn't want to lose her business.

Minister of Highways and Infrastructure David Marit said this is just another step in the plan that have been in place for years. They have no plans now to make any changes.

The government had also hired a third party engineering firm to do a full review of the access, with Marit saying last week the firm "came to the same conclusion that we did — that access was dangerous and it had to be removed."

Last week the Ministry of Highway and Infrastructure completely removed access road that had connected Highway 1.

      1 of 0

      Corrections

      • An earlier version of the story referred to Wendy Campbell. In fact, her name is Wanda Campbell.
        May 15, 2018 9:44 AM CT

      About the Author

      Penny Smoke

      Journalist

      Penny Smoke is Cree/Saulteaux and was born and raised in Saskatchewan on the Treaty 4 territory. She currently works with CBC Saskatchewan and has spent time with CBC Indigenous, CBC Storytelling Project as a reporter and as an associate producer with CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition.

      Comments

      To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

      By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

      now