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The Copper Top Bar

The Copper Top Bar

The Copper Top Bar

The Copper Top Bar

In other spaces, like the West Side’s Blue Dog Tavern, the business itself is new, but there are many echoes of history at the corner of Stocking and 4th. Originally built as a grocery store and operating as the City Trust and Savings Bank during the Great Depression, the space at 638 Stocking became a bar when Frank Nawrocki rented the building from the bank and operated Frank’s Tavern and Beer Garden. In 1972, the building became home to the Kopper Top, which operated for 42 years before it closed in 2012. The Blue Dog Tavern debuted in 2014, and you can still find remnants of the building’s past, including the bank vault door, a handmade coat rack from Frank’s, pieces of copper from the Kopper Top, beer delivery receipts from the 1930s and 40s, a photo of Frank tending bar, and other pieces of the venue’s past, much of which was found in the crawlspace below the building.

Why the Kopper Top bar is closing after 42 years as a West Side institution

Garret Ellison | gellison@mlive.com By Garret Ellison | gellison@mlive.com
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on April 29, 2012 at 10:45 AM, updated April 29, 2012 at 10:49 AM

     
   
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KopperTop01.JPGKatie Greene | MLiveKopper Top co-owner Marc Bohland poses amid copper pieces and Christmas lights Saturday, April 28, in Grand Rapids. After 42 years, Kopper Top will close it’s doors in a month.
KopperTop03.JPGKatie Greene | MLiveKopper Top regular Tom Evans has a drink and laughs with bartender Paul Gezon Saturday, April 28, in Grand Rapids. After 42 years, Kopper Top will close it’s doors in a month.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — The good times are in eclipse at the Kopper Top.

The West Side watering hole is closing its doors next month after 42 years as a Grand Rapids institution, owners Marc Bohland and Don Brown announced on Saturday.

“We’ve been struggling for a fairly long time,” said Bohland, the affable co-owner who purchased the unassuming corner bar known for generous portions and good drinks in 2000.

“People like to come in and say that it’s really busy. Well, it’s not always really busy.”

Bohland and Brown, who bought into the bar in 2006, announced their decision to the 10 staff members on Saturday. The word quickly spread through Facebook and the Kopper Top page soon filled up with anxious patrons expressing their dismay.

Regular customers at the corner bar — more of a restaurant, really — could always count on Bohland for an ear to bend. The little English pub, at 638 Stocking Ave. NW, is festooned with thousands of lights and the walls are covered with straw hats, beach pails and flip-flops. The over-the-top decor changes with the seasons.

Bohland cited the economy as a factor in the decision to close, something he and Brown began to actively consider back in November. Operating the bar has drained both their personal and business finances, he said. They have been unable to find debt refinancing rates they can handle, and have struck out securing a bank loan. The business has also been grappling with the ever-rising cost of utilities and food.

“Unfortunately, restaurants aren’t gas stations — you cant just put up a sign every day and say the steak price is different today,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Increasing competition from Grand Rapids’ burgeoning restaurant scene has also siphoned away customers, he said. The mojo in Grand Rapids hospitality has been moving downtown and uptown in recent years. New bars downtown and along Wealthy Street SE have become commonplace. The West Side, Bohland said, is still coming around.

The Kopper Top serves about 70 to 80 percent regular customers, Bohland said.

“We’re kind of off the radar. Everybody always calls this place a ‘well kept secret,’” he said, ruefully. “Maybe a little too well kept.”

KopperTop02.JPGKatie Greene | MLiveKopper Top waitress Mariea Macavei works behind the copper-covered counter Saturday, April 28, in Grand Rapids. After 42 years, Kopper Top will close it’s doors in a month.

Bohland and Brown own the building, a century-old stalwart which previously housed a grocery store, a bank as well as previous drinking spots. It became the Kopper Top in 1972.

The lengthy menu features classic Americana, some Polish favorites as homage to the neighborhood history, and “The Cuban,” a sandwich that Bohland brought back from his regular aid worker travels to Cuba.

Related: May 2009 Sunday profile of Marc Bohland

Bohland said they put off closing in order to give their employees time to find work elsewhere. They have been looking for buyers over the last five months but haven’t found any takers. With summer approaching, the slowest season, the decision to close now seems logical.

“We can’t continue to put ourselves in that downward spiral,” he said. “It becomes that game of cat and mouse — if we wait in hopes of getting a buyer, our backs might end up too far up against the wall.”

“Then we would have to just shut our doors.”

The Kopper Top will stay open until about Memorial Day. In the meantime, they are open to offers, Bohland said.

Email Garret Ellison or follow him on Twitter.

3 Articles below about The Copper Top By Garret Ellison | gellison@mlive.com

Why the Kopper Top bar is closing after 42 years as a West Side institution – April 29, 2012

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2012/04/kopper_top_bar_closing_after_4.html

Question of the Day: What does the Kopper Top bar closing say about the stability of the West Side? – May 01, 2012

http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/05/question_of_the_day_what_does.html

The Kopper Top bar closes for good after 42 years as West Side mainstay – May 27, 2012

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2012/05/the_kopper_top_closes_for_good.html

This Website had our monthly Board Meetings at the Copper Top until it closed.

Marc Bohland

Friday, May 04, 2012, 11:30:33 AM

Garret and responders, I think it is best that one of owners themselves comment. First let me say that we never expected such a response on our decision. It certainly was not an easy decision. It reading all the comments I believe most are right. However not just one of these contributed to our decision but all of them. Economic conditions, neighborhood changes, customer demographic changes and the general rise of costs. To fairly evaluate I think you must be more than a customer. You must be a small business owner in today’s business climate. You could easily insert our name for small business. It is a struggle for small business’s these days especially under the mounting pressure of corporate business. This is especially true of the food industry.There are many small business owners struggling to stay alive and because we do not hear about this publicly does not mean it is not present. They will tell you if you ask them. They are having a hard time and usually the last to pay themselves in their business. As for the West side I do not believe that this we are individually case. There are many of us in this boat. We have tried are best to keep it going for as long as we can. Have we made mistakes- absolutely. Would we change some things – you bet. Don and I however are proud of what we have done, and how we ran our business. We are proud that we constantly found ways to give back to our community. I think that we must all take a look at the diminishing presence of small local business. I will gladly be the poster child for local first small business if it helps my fellow businesses stay alive. We are thankful for your support over the years and during this closing process. Thank you for the opportunity to have served you over the years.

Marc Bohland
Co-owner of the Kopper Top

November 4, 2011 Hysterical Society Board Meeting

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Copper Top Bar after it was a grocery store and before it was Frank's Tavern

Copper Top Bar after it was a grocery store and before it was Frank’s Tavern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Nawrocki from Franks Bar about 1960

Frank Nawrocki from Franks Bar about 1960

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FaceBook Thread December 9, 2013

I drove by the Kopper Top this morning and they are gutting it. These old booth seats are out on the curb gathering snow. I managed to rescue one!
Geoffrey Hudson's photo.
Geoffrey Hudson's photo.
Geoffrey Hudson's photo.
Geoffrey Hudson's photo.

One Response to The Copper Top Bar

  1. Doug Taylor says:

    Sad day today, as the Copper Top Bar is being gutted and it’s booth’s just tossed on the curb for a free for all. Those were nice booths, they could have been salvaged for some bar someplace. This Website had it’s monthly Board Meetings there every month until they closed. Doug Taylor

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