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Hit hard by economy, Newcastle’s Constable Jack’s closing

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Like many other businesses caught in a prolonged economic slump that has hit particularly hard in Placer County, Newcastle’s Constable Jack’s blues club gamely battled for survival. But, like others, it limped along and ended up suffering what amounts to a death by a thousand financial cuts. Owners Tim and Jacquie Looper, who have operated the Downtown Newcastle bar and nightspot as a family business for 14 years, say they’re targeting the end of this month as a probable closing date. But Tim Looper said he’d like to stretch the closing date through August to allow bands already booked that late to keep their appearance date. The recession hit hard for businesses like Constable Jack’s, which rely on people’s discretionary income for a night out. Fondly called CJ’s by regular customers, the rustic bar dropped its days open from five to three a week as the contractors, real estate agents and others affected by the recession that made up a good part of its customer base began to cut back, Tim Looper said. Increased governmental scrutiny also put pressure on the bar’s finances. When health inspectors determined that the Constable Jack’s cooking equipment was not big enough, Jacquie Looper said she turned to barbecuing. In the past few months, a dispute with a state audit has left the Loopers with a $30,000 tax bill they say they can’t fight because of the costs of hiring legal and accounting experts. Recent cost increases from wholesalers that Constable Jack’s was loathe to pass on to customers added one more reason to shut the doors after 14 years. “It’s been downsizing, downsizing, downsizing,” Jacquie Looper said. From the start, the Loopers have made the business more about family than money, with music coming in a close second. Three daughters – Sheena Looper, Dana Moret Papastathis and Shylah Davis – provide the staffing. And with their daughters have come a closer attachment to three grandchildren – ages 17 months to 10 years. “They’ve grown up around here,” said Tim Looper. Over nearly a decade-and-a-half, Constable Jack’s has attracted artists with drawing power that far exceeded a small-town bar with a capacity for 100 patrons. The list of artists includes Elvin Bishop, Jessie Colin Young, The Yardbirds, Commander Cody, It’s a Beautiful Day and Norton Buffalo. Sacramento’s Mick Martin and his band, The Blues Rockers, have played a regular Saturday night gig monthly at Constable Jack’s. “I’m still dumbfounded,” Martin said. “The loss of Constable Jack’s is going to affect a number of bands and performers.” Martin said the club offered a venue that will be hard to replace for late-1960s-era acts from the Bay Area as well as local and internationally known blues artists passing through the area. Ve Loyce “Shack” Shackleton, of Newcastle’s Monsters of Massage, said he and his wife, Marsha, will be left after Constable Jack’s closure with many good memories, including a performance by Hawaiian musician Willie K and the 20th anniversary reunion this past New Year’s Eve of the Fabulous Blue Flames. “I think that it is a crying shame that Constable Jack’s, a vestige of blues music and other live entertainment for the Auburn area and eastern Sacramento, is closing,” Shackleton said. “The family has put up an incredibly good fight to keep the doors open the past couple of years and it’s going to be missed.”