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
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on April 29, 2012 at 10:45 AM, updated April 29, 2012 at 10:49 AM
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.”
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.
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.
3 Articles below about The Copper Top By Garret Ellison | firstname.lastname@example.org
Why the Kopper Top bar is closing after 42 years as a West Side institution – April 29, 2012
Question of the Day: What does the Kopper Top bar closing say about the stability of the West Side? – May 01, 2012
The Kopper Top bar closes for good after 42 years as West Side mainstay – May 27, 2012
This Website had our monthly Board Meetings at the Copper Top until it closed.
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.
Co-owner of the Kopper Top
November 4, 2011 Hysterical Society Board Meeting
FaceBook Thread December 9, 2013
Mary Fortuna Borr Grew up near there.12 hours ago ·Bob Geer What’s going in there ?12 hours ago ·Geoffrey Hudson I talked to the guys working. They said it’s going to be a new bar called “Pour House.” They’re apparently doing some work over at the old Stockbridge Pub as well.12 hours ago ·Geoffrey Hudson I was just there 30 minutes ago. If anyone else wants a seat or a piece of the wood paneling, etc. it’s all most likely still sitting out there!12 hours ago ·Mary Fortuna Borr The Westside needs this.12 hours ago ·Geoffrey Hudson I think the tables and bar might have been taken, I didn’t notice those but then I didn’t look around long. You can see from the interior pic that it’s piles of whatnot everywhere.12 hours ago ·Jon VandenBroek Those booths have listened to a lot of good jazz in the past!11 hours ago ·David Pomper My uncle was Frank.8 hours ago via mobile ·Mary Fortuna Borr I remember the print shop.8 hours ago ·Doug Taylor History gone, wow!!! It would have been cool if all them seats were saved and put in some bar that needs better seats, why does every contractor lately just trashes everything. We use to have our Website Board Meetings there every month, it was a cool place and good food and drink.John Fallon Is that from the “Bob & Sally Rymar booth?”7 hours ago via mobile ·Steve Meeter Sad4 hours ago ·3 hours ago via mobile ·Bob Burchfield They should of had a booth auction.2 hours ago ·Arlene Docter Helder Where is Kopper Topper? it by Bridge and Stocking. I’ll have to take a look/see. I work at Stocking school.about an hour ago ·Mary Fortuna Borr Fourth and Stocking.about an hour ago ·David Wood Sad when it closed, sad now.about an hour ago ·Annette King Patrick Healy. I believe it didn’t close for lack of business, but because the owners wanted to retire and couldn’t find anyone to buy it.36 minutes ago ·Doug Taylor Annette King I think you are correct, because every time we had our Board Meeting for the Hysterical Society website, it was always busy.Name that building…
Krys Fortuna Uzarski I grew up across the street from it while it was Frank’s and then the. Kopper Top.about an hour ago via mobile ·Mary Macomber Wonder why the big gathering of people?about an hour ago ·Dick Beatty I heard a couple of lawyers bought and will remodel and reopen.about an hour ago ·Patrick Healy I think the people are there because this is just at the start of the depression and there was a run on the bank.49 minutes ago ·Ethan Rohen Really some lawyers bought it? Sure it will turn into some yuppie place and not a neighborhood gathering place.45 minutes ago via mobile ·Nancy Skonieczny-Roy Is that the old Matador factory? I’m not sure what is there now. 4th and Stocking?41 minutes ago ·Annette King Nancy Skonieczny-Roy,Until a few months ago it was the Kopper Top bar, understand it has been sold and has new owner but what it will be next is anybodies guess..34 minutes ago ·Michelle Lyon Westside Health Center is there now. This is the corner of 4th and Stocking.32 minutes ago ·Annette King Michelle Lyon, I think the health center is across the street, that place is much too small to be a health center. The building in the picture is the one next to The Guest House.28 minutes ago ·Nancy Skonieczny-Roy Oh yes. Just the oposite corner there. Thanks for turning me in the right direction Annette King.25 minutes ago · Edited ·Milton Whitmore It was a bar when I was growing up and still is………The Copper Top????? The photo shows the Stocking Theater in the right background and it’s the first one that I’ve seen in here of that theater which was our “go to” on most weekends when we lived on Third St. between Front and Scribner avenues.Annette King I can just barley remember it being a bank.13 minutes ago ·Annette King I think it may have been a real estate company for a short while too but I’m not sure.3 minutes ago · Edited ·Judy Kay Erikson Paula Gleason-Zeeff I remember your grandparents bakery they had the best Rye Bread all kings of wonderful donuts and gosh everything was great!! Wasn’t Vidro’s Grocery store across the street also?3 minutes ago via mobile ·
Plans approved for old Kopper Top bar
Kopper Top corner coming back to life: New tavern under construction on West Sidehttp://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2014/07/blue_dog_tavern_to_open_in_old.html#incart_river_defaultFaceBook Thread April 15, 2015If you go inside across the street at the new BLUE DOG BAR, formerly The Copper Top, formerly Frank’s (Nawrocki) Tavern Saloon, you can see all of the old bills and invoices on display from before, during and after prohibition, it looks like my great great uncle saved everything! Story was that when his speakeasy got raided the GRPD threw him and some customers in a Paddy Wagon for the ride downtown, during which Frank broke out the back doors enroute and they all fled in different directions, none were taken in. His son Jerry Nawrocki (another local bar owner) just died last year at age 97. His dad Frank lived to be 100. His brother Jack lived to be 99. My cousin Mark Nawrocki has some good genes in his family! We should have a Nawrocki family reunion at The Blue Dog!