Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Assembly made winter closure an easy choice, owner says


November 9, 2017

After 14 years of ownership and year-round business, Harbor Bar and Lighthouse Restaurant owner Mike Ward is closing it for the winter and putting the establishment up for sale.

Ward said the closure and sale of his restaurant and bar is in part a smart business decision, but also a political one. Last month the Haines Borough Assembly approved a tobacco excise tax and assembly member Tom Morphet wants to institute an alcohol tax. Ward said the recent political decisions and discussions helped him make his decision to close for the winter and put his business up for sale.

“I’m trying to send a message to the borough assembly, frankly, that I’m not the only one who feels this way,” Ward said. “If you’re making your living out of a business you can’t close it out of spite for the borough. But I don’t make money here in the winter. I lose money so it’s pretty easy to make the decision.”

Ward said he lost at least $5,000 a month during the winter months.

Ward opposed the tobacco tax in a September letter to the borough assembly when he told them he’d close his business if the assembly approved the tax.

The assembly scheduled a fourth public hearing to hear from Ward in person. He said the tax would end up costing the consumer more and that it was a band aid of a budgetary fix, not a long term solution to fix the borough’s budget deficit. The assembly voted 4-2 to approve the excise tax.

“It’s not fun to operate and lose money and then when you feel like you’re fighting your local government it’s way less fun,” Ward said. “The demoralization that I have went through helped me make the decision to sell. In fact, I woke up the next day after the meeting and the decision was made.”

He believes an alcohol tax would be harmful to the local economy. He said more people will likely buy alcohol at Costco in Juneau, and while they’re there, buy groceries as well.

How did the assembly receive the message?

Assembly member Stephanie Scott opposed the tobacco tax and she said she agrees with Ward that the tobacco tax won’t lead to a long-term fiscal solution.

“I’m sorry he feels compelled to (sell his business) but I can understand why,” Scott said.

Assembly member Tom Morphet said the assembly is considering and implementing some of these taxes to address the borough’s budget deficit. Morphet said he wants people, like Ward, who are unhappy with those ideas to suggest cuts.

“I’m fine with making cuts but I have had no direction from the public on where they would like to see those cuts,” Morphet said.

Assembly member Heather Lende said she hopes the business will get a new owner.

“I’m sorry that he feels that way,” Lende said. “It’s too bad that he’s closing.”

Assembly member Brenda Josephson wasn’t seated at the time it voted on the tobacco tax, but says she generally is not supportive of targeted taxes “unless the funds received are used to support specific applicable services.”

Assembly member Sean Maidy said if Ward wants to send a message then “that’s his prerogative.”

“It’s probably a smart business decision…If he wants to do a vindictive attack on the economy of Haines that’s his call. Hopefully someone else buys it and runs it well.”

Ward said he doesn’t expect his business to sell quickly. He’s planning on improving the building by constructing a deck.

In the meantime, Ward said he’s considering purchasing a restaurant in Hawaii.

If his business doesn’t sell, he will reopen the Harbor Bar and Lighthouse Restaurant May 1.


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