Don No Bad DaysBy Don Nelson

There are a handful of genuine institutions in the valley, and Antlers Saloon and Cafe has been one of them. Its closure on New Year’s Eve was both a sad and celebratory occasion, an acknowledgment of Antlers’ longtime relationship with its community and a melancholy farewell. The best we can do now is express our appreciation to all the proprietors who kept it going for so many decades as a friendly place where people could feel at home.

Walking past the empty Antlers building is startling. Any storefront closure in Twisp or Winthrop is a loss in more ways than creating another vacant space. Livelihoods are affected, with economic ripple effects in the community, and there’s a personal impact because business owners are usually people we know. Too many empty windows — and Twisp’s Glover Street has a few — can create an impression of decline, whether that is warranted or not.

Fortunately, new enterprises continue to emerge, often with fledgling entrepreneurs jumping into the marketplace, although usually not as quickly or as frequently as we’d like. In its long history, the valley has seen many businesses come and go. As a valedictory, it’s fair to say that Antlers helped define the Methow for residents and visitors alike, for a long time. It will be missed.



Still in triage

The announced resignation of Three Rivers Hospital CEO Bud Hufnagel, a Methow Valley resident, will create more than a vacuum in leadership when he leaves April 30. It raises a big “now what” question for the nonprofit hospital’s board of directors, who are faced with finding an experienced administrator to take over a small, financially troubled health care facility in a rural setting and continue the recovery Hufnagel started.

Anyone who promises a quick and easy prescription will be blowing smoke. Three Rivers’ problems were a long time in the making and well beyond retrospective second-guessing about what should have or could have been done. That’s a wasted exercise. As much as anything else, the ground has shifted dramatically under the rural hospital landscape in recent years, making survival as relevant a question as adaptation.

The outgoing CEO recognized that from the beginning, and proceeded accordingly — accompanied by some feather-ruffling. Hufnagel can be blunt and assertive but he’s never been equivocal in laying out the hospital’s options or what the consequences might be of any action — or inaction. New leadership isn’t going to change the situation at Three Rivers.

Hufnagel leaves the hospital in better shape than when he took over and that hasn’t been easy. Difficult circumstances greeted him and difficult choices remain for the board and whoever takes over as CEO. The board’s challenge will be to help a new administrator define and support the hospital’s priorities, and then have the courage to move forward with them.



Thanks and welcome

“Thankless” is one of those words often used to describe the role of a small-town elected official. Winthrop owes a big “thank you” to Dave Acheson, who served eight years as mayor through some of the toughest financial challenges the town has faced. Acheson brought a patient, level-headed approach to the job. His experience will be missed, but incoming Mayor Sue Langdalen has filled that role before and brings familiarity with the town’s issues and processes to the table. Smooth transitions aren’t always the norm in small town or large city politics, so Winthrop’s citizens can be grateful for an uneventful handoff to start the new year.