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Md.’s First Independently-Owned OTB Parlor Closing

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By IKE WILSON
The Frederick News-Post

URBANA, Md. (AP) — A 35-year run is slated to come to an end Oct. 9 when owners of the Cracked Claw at Peter Pan, Maryland’s first independently owned off-track betting parlor, closes shop.

Owners Johnny “Pappy” Poole, and his wife, Barbara “BJ,” say the high cost of being in business, competition from West Virginia, a decline in off-track betting proceeds and a depressed economy have driven the restaurant out of business.

The Pooles have signed a contract to sell the 2 1/2-acre property to a developer who has been interested in the site for three years.

Poole said the developer will tear the building down, but he’s unsure of their future plans.

“This is a prime spot,” said Poole, 86.

Attorney Larry Roscher, owner of Roscher and Associates, a Bethesda-based private practice that represents the interested parties, said he was not at liberty to discuss plans.

“The property is in a study period and we’re looking at the potential for the site,” Roscher said. “Nothing is final.”

According to the Maryland Racing Commission, bets at off-track locations have declined from more than $80 million in 1995 to $41.4 million in 2009.

The Cracked Claw gets a percentage of bets through a contractual arrangement with the Maryland Jockey Club, signed 18 years ago.

“Out of that percentage, we pay the tellers, health insurance and raises,” said Angel Poole-Nusbaum, who helps her parents operate the restaurant and betting parlor.

The Cracked Claw gets 4.25 percent of money wagered, but nets only 1.5 percent by the time the Maryland Jockey Club takes out fees, Poole-Nusbaum said.

“They gave us a raise this year but not enough to keep us in business,” Poole-Nusbaum said. “When your payroll is $10,000 a week, and you used to get $16,000 to $17,000 a week and now you’re now getting $6,000 a week, it’s hard to stay in business. It’s sad. The state will lose revenue as well.”

Closing the business after 35 years “is hard to digest right now,” Poole-Nusbaum said. “My sister has a son, and I have two sons, and we had hoped they would be the third generation to work the business. But right now our main concern is our parents and their main concern is the employees.”

Hooking up to the county’s water and sewer lines cost the business $450,000 two years ago. That money is being paid over 10 years, at about $13,300 every quarter.

Poole said he shouldn’t have to pay the balance of $330,000 because the place will be torn down anyway. Payroll is $12,000 a week and electricity costs $4,000 a month, Poole-Nusbaum said.

“Plus our property taxes tripled in the last two years, so we’ve been hit hard with everything,” Poole-Nusbaum said. “We’re proud to say that our food and beverage side of the business gets great compliments, but, unfortunately, you need both to be profitable for a restaurant of this size.”

Laws written to govern off-track betting operations need to be revisited to make it easier to stay in business, Poole-Nusbaum said.

Doreen Bartlett said she is now an occasional patron of the Cracked Claw, but frequented what was once called the Peter Pan restaurant for many special occasions when she was growing up.

“What with the tremendous development in the Urbana area, a lot of people don’t realize how it used to be viewed as a special place out in the country,” Bartlett said. “If demolition for developers is its fate, I will miss its eclectic architecture and the history that accompanies it.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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