Balgonie restaurateur says road closure is killing his business

A restaurant owner in Balgonie is preparing to shut down his diner, saying the closure of the town's main access to Highway 1 cut off his business.

Business reports 25% loss of sales

Dick Champlone said his diner will probably have to close in about a month after a rapid decrease in business. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

A restaurant owner in Balgonie is preparing to shut down his diner, saying the closure of the town's main access to Highway 1 cut off his business.

A new overpass was recently opened at the intersection of Highway 46 and the No. 1 at Balgonie and the town's access point from Main Street to Highway 1 was closed permanently.

Just behind the signs that read "road closed" is The Diner. 

Owner Dick Champlone, who bought the business eight years ago, said sales are down about 25 per cent compared to last year due to the closure of the right-in, right-out access into the community.

Champlone said he opened The Diner as a retirement project, but worries about the future of his nine employees, some who moved to Balgonie for the job.  

"I've got a lady with two kids at home. What is she going to do?"

Champlone recently reduced the business's hours and had to lay off three employees to reduce costs.
Champlone said he has reduced his diner's hours and laid off multiple employees to cut costs. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

He estimates The Diner will last another month before he is forced to shut its doors.

"You can only cut back so far before you start hurting your product and we don't want to start doing that because we have some faithful customers who still come and go out of here," he said. "I know we're going to run out of time here. It's just the way it is."

Donna Kessel is one of those faithful customers. She lives four miles east of Balgonie with her husband, who has been in the area since 1952.

Now, it takes them ten minutes to get into town. 

"My husband was here sometimes three times a day for coffee, visiting with friends," Kessel said. "We have to come into town to get our mail, visit our kids, our grandkids — half of them live here in town — so we would like to see this intersection stay open."
Donna Kessel lives four miles east of Balgonie but says it now takes her ten minutes to get into town. (CBC News)

The Kessels aren't the only ones visiting Balgonie less. Those on the highway have been deterred from popping into town for gas or a bite to eat, she said. 

"Once they're passed they're not going to turn around and come back to support our businesses."

Kessel said the Subway and a locally-owned service and parts shop down the road have also lost customers. "It's going to hurt them all," she said. 

Province says it's safety first

Minister of Highways spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi has told CBC that the access point had to be shut down due to safety concerns. Although the intersection is closed, he said that businesses can be accessed four other ways. 

In the 12 years before the bypass was built, there had been  two fatalities at the intersection, but Champlone said they occurred when drivers tried to cross the highway, rather than turn right towards Regina.

"They're blowing smoke and they want us all to accept that," Champlone said, of the Ministry. "I haven't seen anybody come and talk to me about what's happening because my attitude is, they don't care."
Champlone said two petitions have garnered over 3,000 signatures, calling for the reopening of the access point into Balgonie. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

In September, the community presented a petition with 2,100 signatures calling for the resurgence of the roadway. The people spearheading that campaign started another one on Friday and Champlone said they received 1,100 signatures in one day.

The group is scheduled to have a meeting with the Ministry on Monday, but is has been rescheduled once already.

"Regardless of whether we close this or not, this group that we have, we're not going to stop," Champlone said. "If they think closing the restaurant is going to put an end to it, all it's going to do is fire it up."