25th September 2017

Sudden closure of bar comes in for criticism

The closure of a popular Unst bar has been branded “vindictive” amid fears it will make the island less attractive to tourists.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson says the owner of The Baltasound Hotel was wrong to shut its public bar shortly before the start of UnstFest – an event which brings scores of visitors to the island.

“When you’re closing the public bar – which has been the hub of the community – the week before the busiest week of the year, it comes across as a bit vindictive,” said Mr Thomson.

Stephen Springer, the owner of the hotel, has not spoken publicly about the decision to close the bar and he did not respond to The Shetland Times’ requests for information.

Mr Thomson said: “Trying to get hold of the man is impossible. I have been up trying to visit but he wouldn’t speak. I got him on the phone and in a nutshell he said his business is his business, which is fair enough, and then he accused me of threatening him and hung up on me.

“I’ve got UnstFest committee members and members of the public approaching me. They’re telling me that it’s almost like he’s single-handedly trying to undo all the hard work that the UnstFest committee is trying to do to attract tourists to Unst for the summer tourist season.

“The real issue isn’t the closing of the bar. At the end of the day nobody is going to argue that he must keep the bar open but there’s been no communication with the public.

“If he had said ‘the bar’s unsustainable, I’ll keep it open until the end of UnstFest but it has to close’, people would have been more understanding.”

But former owner of The Baltasound Hotel Steve Swan, 45, says he understands the pressures of running the public bar amid falling local custom.

“Even if you look at bars in Lerwick – they’re struggling. They’re not the way they were eight years ago when I got started,” he said.

“Unst has become smaller after people have moved away, so there are financial constraints and staffing constraints.

“The growth in birth rates is one of the biggest factors. For the past four or five years it’s been birth after birth and the people who are the parents don’t drink in the pubs any more.”

Mr Swan said that in the eight years he ran the bar, while total sales remained reasonably steady, the share of sales to locals dropped by 60 per cent.

He added that his uncle was the barman at the Baltasound Hotel’s bar under Mr Springer, but one day he turned up for work and the room was empty.

Frank Strang, 59, is the owner of Saxa Vord resort, Unst, which he runs with his wife Debbie. He shed some light on what happened to the bar in its final days.

“Mr Springer approached us and told us he was closing the back bar and would we be interested in buying some fixtures and fittings, so we bought the pool table and some tables and chairs,” he said.

“I feel sorry for Mr Springer. He’s not a bad guy. It’s a big undertaking running a bar on a small island and I think he thought it would be busier than it was.”

About Andrew McQuarrie

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One comment

  1. Jack Brunton

    Having digested this peace, I have to note my concerns over the involvement of an elected member of Council getting so vocal about what is a business decision.
    Further to that, I am not prepared to believe that many people travel all the way to Unst simply to sample the ambience of the Hotel’s back bar.
    Finally, is it really true that the success or otherwise of Unstfest is predicated on availability of booze?

    Reply

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