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Buck’s A&W to close Sunday

Buck’s A&W in Port Orchard is closing Sunday after 49 years of serving food and supporting local sports. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
Buck’s A&W in Port Orchard is closing Sunday after 49 years of serving food and supporting local sports.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

After nearly 50 years of supporting local sports, giving teenagers their first jobs and yes, serving hamburgers, Buck’s A&W on Mile Hill Drive announced it will close its doors Sunday.

“It is crummy, crummy, crummy,” said Rick Gehring, who took over the business from his parents, Glennys and the late Robert Buck Gehring, in 1997. “We’ve been a part of the community for 49 years, and there are hardly any words to describe how it feels to have to make a decision to close because of a lawsuit that was settled in 2007.”

Gehring said the business was being forced into involuntary Chapter 11 due to a $650,000 judgement against it to pay “reasonable attorney’s fees” stemming from a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by two former female employees in 2004.

Gehring said three defendants were named in the suit — a former manager Jim Border, Gehring and his wife Karin, and Buck’s A&W. Gehring said Border settled out of court, he and his wife were determined not liable, and the corporation paid a total of $110,000 to the two women.

The trial was in the summer of 2007, and since then Gehring said his business has been paying off the judgement, plus $300,000 in attorney’s fees. However, following the latest judgement, Gehring said barring something “miraculous” happening, his business is filing for Chapter 7 and closing.

“We owe $1 million to our creditors, and we made a final settlement offer to all our creditors,” he said. “It would be a miracle if they all accepted that offer.”

So Sunday night, Gehring said he gathered his staff to tell them the store would be closing in a week.

“I cannot tell you the agony — I would not wish this on anybody,” he said. “I’ve got 20 people walking out the door and having to find jobs in this economy.”

Then Monday morning, Gehring changed the sign in front of his restaurant, which normally marks the arrival of holiday pumpkin and peppermint shakes, to announce its pending closure.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be putting that on the reader board,” said Gehring, whose parents opened the business in 1959, and who has worked in the current location since returning to Port Orchard from college in 1978. “I thought I would pass it on to my kids, or sell it to someone else who would live in Port Orchard and try and make it a better place. But that’s not going to happen.”

Instead, Gehring said he will spend the week talking to customers and the countless teams and players the business has supported over the years, the trophies, t-shirts and plaques of which line the restaurant’s walls.

“This place has history oozing from it, and has touched a lot of lives,” he said, adding that he was expecting to have many tough conversations this week with people and organizations he has supported for decades. “It’s ugly. No more car washes, no more fundraisers — it’s all gone. It’s a huge hole.”

On Dec. 14, the business will close early at 8 p.m., then Gehring said the staff will hold its Christmas party as planned.

“It will be bittersweet,” he said. “And yes, I’ll probably cry. And I won’t be the only one.”

After that, Gehring said he will be looking for a job like the rest of his staff.

“I’ve got kids in college and bills to pay like everybody else,” he said, adding that he and wife gave considerable thought as to what to tell people who asked if they could do anything for them.

“Pray for my family, pray for my staff and pray that there will be healing,” he said. “I have to have faith in God and that when one door closes, another opens up.”

Gehring said he is “floored” by the legal proceedings and thinks the “rules are out of whack.” He said Buck’s A&W is appealing the latest decision, and in the meantime, trying not to become bitter.

“You have to have forgiveness,” he said. “You can’t let bitterness turn your stomach every day like a cancer — it will eat you alive.”

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