Kow Klosure: It's over

"The end came with a chocolate shake and a side of fries for hundreds of Oak Harbor residents yesterday, as they flocked to Kow Korner Drive-In to mark the end of an era.The venerable Midway Boulevard hamburger joint and hangout closed Friday, destined for the wrecking ball and replacement by a credit union.As longtime customers and well-wishers stopped in for a final double-cheese-and-shake, the occasion often seemed more like a reunion than a last lunch. Groups of former Oak Harbor High School students - Class of '60-something - waved and shouted in recognition as old friends pulled up to order.By noon, the lunch crowd was spilling into Kow Korner's one-acre parking lot, which was already crowded with cars.It's a great loss to the community, said Joe Flowers, a Kow client for the last 22 years. This was the only place to hang out, said Oak Harbor Police Chief Tony Barge, who grew up in the city. All the little juvenile delinquents used to come here.And Barge?Yeah, I used to hang out here too, the chief admitted with a grin.Next to Barge stood Jim Vannice and his wife, Chris.I've been coming here off and on since it opened in the late '50s, Vannice said. Back when there were 10-cent burgers and 5-cent fries. Coming here and seeing friends. You'd always run into someone you know.Former Kow Korner employee Chris Vannice said losing the burger joint was like losing a link to the past.This place ties people together and it's a good, casual, social meeting place, she said.Inside, Kow Korner owner Herb Williams said after 22 years in the Navy and 41 years of running the fast-food restaurant, he's ready to retire.Still, Williams was somewhat less than festive.I have mixed emotions, I guess, Williams said. Just that maybe I could have done things differently ... but it's not really a big money maker.Williams, who is 80, had hoped to sell Kow Korner to someone who would keep it open.But given the value of a commercially zoned, one-acre property and the glut of fast food franchises already in Oak Harbor, interest in preserving the drive-in was tepid.Last March, the Oak Harbor School District purchased Alaska Federal Credit Union's building on Oak Harbor Road, and the credit union, in turn, bought the Kow Korner property for the location of its new building.From its start in April of 1959, Williams said, Kow Korner was a hit with local workers and sailors from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.Yesterday, in its final hours, it was more popular than ever.Williams said his employees filled a take-out order for 40 burgers during the Friday finale, and the day before filled an order for 100 double cheeseburgers and 100 vanilla shakes.Williams said he was planning to take his wife on some trips in their motor home and work on a barn full of old cars that need restoring.But I'll miss being around all these young people, he said, gesturing toward his employees. And I'll miss all our longtime customers.Judging from the crowd outside, the feeling was mutual."

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