sold -- The Brown Derby was a staple of the out-to-eat crowd for more than 30 years
by: Chase Allgood, Above, Mel Vanderzanden of Banks (in Hawaiian shirt) enjoys a last meal at The Brown Derby, which closed last Sunday. With him are Linda and Chad Vanderzanden, Katie Heater, Nicki and Travis Vanderzanden, Marilyn McGlasson and Kelly and Ryan Vanderzanden.

They called it 'The Derby.'

The full name was The Brown Derby Restaurant. But whenever people who had left Banks returned home, said former schools superintendent and longtime customer Marilyn McGlasson, it was 'The Derby' that they visited for old time's sake. And it was 'The Derby' where the locals always found company even if they came alone.

'This is like the little, local version of 'Cheers,'' McGlasson said.

It was, anyway.

Owner Ed Clark, ready to retire finally, is selling. Five Star Builders is buying, ready to have new offices. And the customers are having to get used to the idea, whether they're ready to say goodbye or not.

Sunday was their last chance. As of 2 p.m. that day, two weeks after word of the closure spread through the town's channels of gossip, it was officially The End.

'This is the passing of an era,' said McGlasson, 62, who was born and raised in the house behind the restaurant. It was founded as a tavern in 1935.

Clark bought The Derby on April 8, 1975, and played an active role - not always willingly - for all but seven years, until last Sunday, April 8, when he shut down the business 32 years later to the day.

'It's a glad day for me,' he said, 'but a sad day for people who have been involved in the restaurant a long time - lots of friends.'

He tried retiring before. Clark, who turns 68 next week, said he sold the business - but not the building, at 181 N. Main St. - in 1994 to a couple who had been employees of his. He said they ran the business successfully for four years, then sold.

The next owner, he said, 'ran the business into the ground.' Three years later, in 2001, still the owner of the building, he once again took over the restaurant. He said it felt like starting over.

Five years later, at Christmastime, he was invited to go to Hawaii with his daughter, her husband and their three children. 'And I couldn't, because I had to work,' he said.

He made up his mind and set a date. He'd find a way out by June.

It wasn't another restaurant operator, but Five Star Builders was a good fit for the space, Clark said. They're growing, and his is one of the nicer buildings in town.

As for his own future, Clark has 'projects.' He mentioned improving other pieces of his property. But he'll travel, as well, with several road trips in mind. And this May he vacations in Hawaii.

The past two weeks, however, were busier than ever at the restaurant. Clark said support at the end, including cards from customers expressing sadness but wishing him a happy retirement, was 'overwhelming.'

One waitress, 37-year-old Susan Cackler of Buxton, said she had $1,000 in sales on her first shift after word got out that the restaurant was closing. Before, she said, she would see $300 in sales on a normal night, $500 on a good night.

'I think it will be sad later,' Cackler, who worked there nearly four years, said shortly after pouring some of the final bottles of champagne.

'But right now I just want to sit down. It's been a long two weeks.'

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