Instead of previewing upcoming shows, the electronic marquee above Aberdeen’s D&R Theatre Saturday changed to a farewell message.
“Thanks for all of your support Grays Harbor. We tried our best. Good luck,” the sign read.
And with that, owner John Yonich abruptly shuttered the theater he spent years and millions of dollars restoring, citing a litany of issues with the state, county and city.
“It’s not about money. John’s put $4 million out of his own pocket into that down there, and he doesn’t owe a cent to anybody. But he’s tired of all the hassle, getting nitpicked for every little thing and not getting any cooperation,” said Yonich’s representative, Sim Osborn.
Initial reports had been that the theater would close Monday, but Osborn confirmed it is closed as of now. Messages left for Yonich were returned by Osborn.
The theater’s closure was effective immediately, although Scoops and Backstage Espresso will remain open for now. Osborn said they’ll likely have to close at some point with the theater no longer there to draw patrons, but there’s no date in mind. There are no plans to close the Italian restaurant Amore.
No scheduled shows were listed on the D&R website until June.
“Everyone is very thankful for the community, and the patrons. … He’s exceedingly happy to have the people rally to come to the shows,” Osborn said. “The guy is trying to give back to his community, and his community wants it but apparently the local government doesn’t want it.”
Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson said he was surprised to hear of the closure, and wasn’t aware of any issues Yonich had with the city.
“It’s a big draw to the community,” Simpson said of the theater. “We always hate to hear of a business closing. It’s just kind of a surprise.”
City Councilman Doug Paling, a personal friend of Yonich, said, “Aberdeen’s lost its golden goose.”
“It’s a sad moment for Aberdeen,” Paling added. “What he’s done to downtown is incredible.”
Osborn said issues with the city and other government agencies go back years, and Yonich has discussed them with the city “ad nauseam.”
He claimed bad advice from various inspectors had led to fines, and at least some attempts had been made to improperly impose taxes.
“He’s not asking for a special set of rules or for them to be bent for him, but he wants them to be applied uniformly,” Osborn said.
Within the last year, the City Council approved an exemption on admission taxes that served to keep ticket prices down at the D&R.
Osborn claimed efforts to deal with property taxes — which have gone up from virtually nothing when Yonich purchased the building into the thousands — by adding the site to the Aberdeen Historic Register had been mishandled by the city. He said at one point the city said it had not received the paperwork, although Yonich had receipts and email confirmations.
Simpson said the city was still working through the application, trying to distinguish improvements that would and would not qualify for the register.
“As far as I know the paperwork was in. Some of the work he did wouldn’t qualify,” he said.
Community Development Director Lisa Scott said the theater has been on the register for about a year, but the property tax credit required a great deal of detail the city had not received. Yonich’s work predated the creation of the historic register, and the city needed detailed documentation of the work that had been done so it could determine what was historic and what would not count toward a tax credit.
“We can process that and get that to the county, because the county is the one that charges the property taxes,” Scott said.
She said she explained the requirements to Yonich months ago, eventually receiving a spreadsheet of broad totals for a few classifications of work.
“I had asked him for the details, and I had explained to him that that wasn’t going to work because I need that great level of detail. … That’s the only thing we’re waiting for,” Scott said. “We’ve done everything we can to help, but we have rules we have to follow, we can’t break them,” she added.
Most recently, Osborn said new signage on a building Yonich owns nearby led to threats to close all three buildings he owns downtown. “This was the final straw,” he said.
Simpson said he only heard about the issue with the signs Friday, and was not aware of any mention of closing the buildings.
“There’s no reason to shut down his buildings. Everything he has been doing has been approved except these two lights that were out for the new businesses that were there. We worked very hard with him to help things get along,” Simpson said.
Osborn, however, struck a different tone.
“John doesn’t need Grays Harbor. There are lots of other places that want him to spend his money and put deals in, but he wanted to do it in his hometown. It’s unfortunate that it’s going this way,” Osborn said. “Every time he turns around he’s getting nickled-and-dimed and hassled over silly, silly stuff.”
For now, Yonich isn’t looking to sell the theater, Osborn said. Yonich still owns a home in the area, but his business future on the Harbor is now uncertain.
“I don’t know, we were looking at a couple of projects down there. I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Osborn said.