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Velican’s closing after 50 years

By: Martha Garcia Gold Country News Service
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Velican’s Ponderosa Bar and Grill in Weimar is closing after five decades of doing business near the North Fork American River canyon. The party on June 25 won’t be an especially cheery one, but owner Bill Velican is calling it a grand “closing” celebration. “After 50 years, it’s time to close her up,” Velican said. Velican blames the economy, and the cost of doing business, for the end of an era for him and his family. According to Velican, keeping the doors open at his beer and wine bar and small restaurant is difficult because of “over-regulation, over-taxation and excessive fees” and there’s not enough income to pay for it all. “All small businesses are faced with that,” said a frustrated Velican. “The way the economy is, there is no business. I think it’s very hard. Big businesses are closing down, too.” California, he said, is a great place to live for “rich people and politicians.” Another Placer County establishment that has been in operation for over 50 years is Lou La Bonte’s Restaurant and Lounge in Auburn. Judi La Bonte said her father, Lou La Bonte, opened the restaurant in Weimar in 1946, near the road to the river where the Ponderosa is located. Construction of Interstate 80 through Weimar took the land and her parents relocated the restaurant to Lincoln Way in Auburn in 1955. La Bonte agrees the economy, as well as taxes and fees, make operating a restaurant challenging. “Our cash flow is very low because of economic conditions and restrictions put on us by the government,” La Bonte said. “It seems like every time you balance your P&L (profit and loss) every month, it isn’t as frugal as it used to be.” La Bonte said she is able to stay in business because of the support of longtime customers. “We have a lot of nice people who still continue to come by for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said. However, she realizes there are many Californians out of work and people on fixed incomes who can’t afford to eat out all the time. Bruce Cosgrove, CEO of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, said it’s unfortunate that a business feels the need to close because of regulations. “Every business that has to shutter the doors is truly a loss ... for the community,” Cosgrove said. “Governments, the very entities that are dependent on businesses being successful, are impacted, too. They generate tax revenue, they pay fees, business license fees, and sales tax,” which are very lucrative to government,” Cosgrove said. Cosgrove said he knows from attending city and county meetings that local agencies are actually working to relieve the burden on small businesses by relaxing signage laws, allowing some flexibility. “That’s critical for small business; it’s not something that will remain forever. Right now, that’s where government is being helpful,” Cosgrove said. John and Betty Velican opened the Ponderosa in 1961, at a time, Velican said, when the economy — and laws — were different. “People seemed to go out more, have a good time,” he said. After the loss of his father in 1987, and both his mother and his wife, Carol, in 2007, Velican continued to operate the Ponderosa on his own. “I’m all by myself” now, he said. Bill Bean, of Colfax, said he visited the Ponderosa last winter. “Bill opened up for a group of friends so we could have our annual get-together,” Bean said. “It’s been a very special place over the years … I have many great memories of that place.” Bean said the Velicans have supported law enforcement with an annual golf tournament. According to Velican, during the period from 1990 to 2003 when the yearly tournament was held, about $30,000 was raised for the Placer County Search and Rescue team. Other annual events that drew crowds were the Spring Fling Chicken Wing Ding, in May, and the buck stew dinner that took place in November to celebrate the end of hunting season and served as a “homecoming” for patrons. Velican said after he closes he will retire on the 11-acre parcel, where the business and his home are located, and which is close to his children and grandchildren. “It’s not for sale,” Velican said.