Tuesday January 1, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR. Story Body:

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

BENNINGTON -- Carmody's Irish Pub will be closing its doors after today following a near 14-year run as a fixture of the downtown restaurant scene.

"We've been struggling. I think most restaurants in town have been struggling for the past couple of years. People aren't going out. The finances aren't there," said T.J. Carmody, the restaurant's owner.

Carmody's restaurant is well-known in Bennington, especially around St. Patrick's Day when it serves Irish-themed specials. Carmody himself works to organize Bennington's St. Patrick's Day parade and has been involved in numerous community activities such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, fund raisers, and a DUI awareness campaign along with the Bennington Police Department which was featured by the New York Times in 2006.

Only the bar section will be open Tuesday for the "Hangover Ball," but after that the restaurant is closed.

Carmody said in an interview Monday that his restaurant's gift certificates will be honored by Mount Anthony Country Club, Kevin's Sports Pub and Restaurant, and Peppermills. " All three restaurants will honor Carmody's gift certificates so nobody should lose out on those," Carmody said.

He said he had been considering closing down before the holidays, but did not wish to have his employees out of work during that period.


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"I'm three weeks short of 14 years and the last two years have been the toughest I've had here," he said. "Some of it's the economy, so we tried to keep it going and tried to keep everybody employed."

Fewer meals

Carmody said people who were coming in to eat three times a week began coming in once a week or once a month and while support for his business has been strong, people are not eating out like they used to. He said on some occasions his numbers have been down close to 30 percent.

"You sit there and you look, and you've got money there, and you've got to make payroll or you've got to make the taxes and you want to take care of the staff and take care of the people, because your numbers are down and you hope business is going to get better, and you catch up on the taxes and then you get behind that a little bit, and it kind of all snowballed," he said.

He said he had wished to keep the closure quiet but after telling some employees over the weekend, the news broke Monday and calls began to pour in. Carmody said many are sad to see the restaurant go, including himself.

Carmody's West

Carmody said he plans to re-open the former Carmody's West on Route 9 in Hoosick, N.Y., five miles from the Main Street location. The business closed last year and had a wood-fired pizza and barbecue menu. Carmody said he closed it because three of his four sons had moved on and he felt as though he were competing with himself. He said the Hoosick location will likely undergo a name change and for now will have the same wood-fired pizza menu coupled with a few favorites from the Bennington Carmody's.

Carmody said the recently completed Route 279 East, while not entirely responsible for the restaurant's woes, has had an affect.

"I've been doing the same thing here almost 14 years and I don't know, I'm not trying to spill milk or anything, I mean the bypass is a bypass, and I'm saying you can feel it a little bit," he said. "Not that the town isn't going to bounce back from that but I didn't think that we felt it was going to come back, or you know, going to affect us as much as it has. I mean, I felt it over the holidays. People aren't out, I think they're going around us. I've talked to some people. I'm not blaming it on that, it's a combination of things."

Factors in favor

He said he hopes the New York location will do well as it has a number of qualities working in its favor, namely better parking and space for entertainment. These things, he hopes, will offset its distance from the downtown. Carmody said he owns the building at the Bennington location but is not sure what will become of it.

"I love downtown Bennington," he said. "I was born and raised here and we've been back here about 18 years." He said he has opened between 15 and 20 restaurants between here and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and has no plans on leaving the community.

"If the town will allow me, I would still like to run the parade," he said. "I've done that for a bunch of years. I want to do that, that's part of me and that's what I want to be."

Carmody is known for dressing as a leprechaun during St. Patrick's Day festivities and greeting people at his restaurant and being part of the parade.

"It's been great," Carmody said. "The people in Bennington have been great, and I appreciate that. We've had some fun here, we've done some crazy things, we've done a lot of stuff for the community, and I hope they understand it's a sign of the times. Every year I thought it was going to get better."

News goes viral

Shortly before 2 p.m. the Banner made it known the restaurant would close via its Facebook page, and within minutes dozens of people had left comments expressing their disappointment and enjoyment of Carmody's.

"That's awful! That's one of the best restaurants in town," posted Megan McGurn.

"Wow I am so sad to hear this. T.J. has supported the community for so many years. This is truly a great loss for Bennington. You will be greatly missed T.J. and family," posted David Long.

Elizabeth Grande, a waitress at Carmody's for the past 10 years, said it has been hard to keep her emotions in check since hearing the news. "T.J. called me at home this morning because he knew that I'd cry because I'm the most sensitive one of the bunch," she said.

"I can't put into words ... he's just a really good guy and a good guy to work for," she said of Carmody. "He has a heart of gold and does so much for the community."

Jobs offered

Grande said she and others have been invited to work at the new location. "I don't know how I can say no," she said, adding that employees have often had to tell Carmody to go home after he has been at the restaurant for 15 hours at a stretch. "He treats everybody like family."

Carmody said he employs between 23 and 33 people, a mixture of full-time and part-time staff.

Lindsey Carmody, T.J. Carmody's daughter-in-law who works as a waitress, said she thinks Carmody is excited about the new location. "He's excited, the family's excited for the new journey."

Grande, who used to own the former Cider Mill in Bennington's west end, said people are eating out less and less. "Food costs go up, then your costs have to go up. And it's no lie that the bypass has already hurt us. There's no question," she said. "We're not getting the ski families we used to have. We've had people that stop here religiously every year for their Christmas trees, but now they're just going. They're headed right up, they're not stopping in our town. Our regulars have been amazing. They haven't really let us down, it's definitely the tourist and the skiers. They just want to get to their destination and you can't blame them."

"We're not the only restaurant that's spoke of it," said Lindsey Carmody.

"Everyone said you won't feel it for a few years, but no, there's no question, it happened right after it opened," Grande said of the eastern leg of Route 279, which allows motorists to access Route 7 without driving through Bennington.

Grande said she is certain Carmody will be part of the community activities, but perhaps on a smaller scale. "It's going to be tough," she said.