The final pies are being baked, the employees have their layoff notices, crowds are gathering for one last slice, and the iconic Chilliwack Airport Coffee Shop is set to close its doors for good this weekend.
Recreational pilots across B.C. know Chilliwack because of the coffee shop and its famous “I Fly for Pie” logo that put the city on the map.
But after 36 years in operation, and a long and contracted dispute with management of the airport, the three Good sisters who run the coffee shop have been told to be out by Feb. 28.
“There was no reason we couldn’t have that two-year [lease] extension,“ Judi Good told The Progress recently.
“We always pay our rent on time. We bring a lot to the community.”
A letter writing campaign to Mayor Sharon Gaetz and other local politicians about the demise of the airport coffee shop was started on Feb. 2 on the B.C. General Aviation Association (BCGAA) website.
“The [BCGAA] made a decision at its inception to focus on the fun of flying and not get involved in politics,” the post states. “This is one of the few instances where the fun of flying and politics meet and we feel it necessary to provide you with the information to try and make a difference.”
This reporter was listed as someone to contact with the letter writing campaign, and as of Feb. 22 The Progress received approximately a dozen emails.
“I have been flying in to Chilliwack for many years and the only reason is for the wonderful restaurant,” Cessna pilot Burt Malan wrote. Malan is also a captain of a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 and flies his Cessna out of Boundary Bay.
Vancouver air traffic controller and recreational pilot Roger Precious said Chilliwack is the perfect flight destination for Lower Mainland pilots because of its relative proximity, yet enough of a distance to provide some flying challenge.
“I am asking you to do whatever you can to assist the ‘I Fly for Pie’ restaurant to remain open!” Precious wrote “You will not only be putting smiles on the faces of hundreds of pilots, but will help Chilliwack’s economy, as this restaurant is what makes pilots come to Chilliwack airport for food, fuel, maintenance and lodging.”
“The restaurant has been a go-to destination for all pilots residing in and around the lower mainland for over 30 years, famous for their food, pies and ambience,” Mike and Andrea Droege wrote.
“I do indeed ‘fly for pie’ and I believe your community and the airport is all the better off for this,” pilot Blake Cowan said in pleading with city hall to negotiate a resolution.
The Chilliwack Airport is owned by the City of Chilliwack but is run under a long-term lease by Magnum Management. That Magnum contract was taken over by local businessman Bryan Kirkness in 2013.
Gaetz responded to the letter writers by explaining that in 1997, the council of the day leased the airport facility management and operations to Magnum. Because of that agreement, Magnum has the right to manage the airport without interruption by city hall.
“Not only are we legally prohibited from getting involved in a landlord and tenant dispute at the airport, but we also do not have any authority to resolve disputes or impose settlement terms on the parties,” Gaetz said via email.
“It is unfortunate that many people mistakenly believe that the city could fix this situation if we wanted to. This isn’t a case of wanting or not wanting to help, but rather an instance were the city legally cannot get involved.”
Some level of turmoil at the airport has been ongoing since Kirkness took over. A number of tenants complained about demands over immediate rent increases as high as 50 per cent.
To try to collectively deal with the problems they were having, many of the tenants at the airport created the Chilliwack Airport Tenants’ Association (CATA). On the website saveycw.com, a number of statements were made that Magnum took issue with and the company filed a defamation lawsuit against CATA. As of this week, the only item posted on the website is a joint apology and retraction to Magnum and Atkins regarding a specific statement made about an altered fire inspection report.
Those who defend Magnum’s actions suggest the changes made when Kirkness took over were in part to remedy longstanding violations of Transportation Canada rules. There is also the suggestion the tenants had a bit of a sweetheart deal going back at least a decade.
“I do not feel that it is inappropriate to conduct a rent review, when in some cases, there has been no increase for over a decade,” airport manager Garry Atkins told Black Press in May 2016.
On the frequently-asked-questions page on the airport’s website, an example of one tenant’s lease is outlined. The tenant pays $2,574 per year for roughly quarter of an acre on which is a hangar, a commercial business and a full-time residence.
“We are unaware of anyone anywhere in Chilliwack paying such a small amount for land that provides commercial premises, a residential premise, and a hanger.”
Kirkness did not respond to multiple email requests to talk about why the coffee shop’s lease would not be renewed, and Atkins actively declined to discuss the subject with this reporter.
What management did say to the Good sisters is that it plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to find a new sub-tenant for the space. Magnum has said the Goods are welcome to submit an RFP response, but Magnum retracted its offer of a month-to-month lease agreement in the meantime.
Some, including the mayor and others closely involved, suggest the matter in some part came down to personality conflicts. What didn’t help matters was last May when the three sisters duct-taped themselves to trees on the patio in protest. That dispute arose when Magnum informed the Goods in an April 14, 2016 letter that management was taking control of the outdoor patio to make repairs.
The coffee shop’s last day of operation is Sunday, Feb. 26. Talking about the dispute, which has taken an emotional toll on her, Judi Good began to tear up.
“All we want to do is have our little coffee shop,” she said.
“You just grow to love everybody around here, all the customers, the pilots, we’ve just grown to be a huge family here.”