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Buying the Hinkle’s building in downtown Columbia and reviving the restaurant inside are a pair of pretty big achievements.
But real estate investors Don Murphy and his wife, Becky, aren’t done. They have more in mind for their newly acquired landmark at Third and Locust streets.
Following their $770,000 purchase, the borough residents are turning their attention to expanding the restaurant as well as reopening and enlarging the Hinkle’s gift shop.
“Sometimes customers have to wait (to be seated) because of a crowd,” Don Murphy said on Monday. “We want to capture that additional business.”
Borough leaders hailed the news that the Murphys had completed their acquisition and will invest in improvements.
“It’s great to see new investment in the business, enabling it to grow,” said Janice Nikoloff, executive director of the Columbia Economic Development Corp.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Mayor Leo Lutz. The Murphys “are really helping the borough move forward.”
The Murphys will double the number of seats at the 80-seat eatery plus add a small meeting and banquet space with 20 more seats. At the same time, they will highlight the space’s “historic architecture.”
The menu will grow, though it’s too early to be specific, Don Murphy said.
Don Murphy emphasized that the restaurant will stay open during the project, set to begin in mid- to late December and be completed in March.
“We have some really cool ideas to make that place a destination,” he said. “It already is, but we want to expand on that, with some nostalgia.”
Again, it’s too soon in the design process to disclose those details, Don Murphy said. The cost of the restaurant makeover remains to be determined, he said.
During that December-to-March period, the now-idle gift shop will be enlarged from 1,200 square feet to 1,800 square feet. Its reopening is set for March, too.
To make a bigger restaurant and gift shop possible, the Murphys will use space in that building that was formerly occupied by Hinkle’s Pharmacy.
Don Murphy’s comments mark another favorable development in the sudden reversal of the property’s fate over the past six weeks.
The saga began Oct. 2, with the announcement that Hinkle’s Pharmacy and Restaurant would close Oct. 25 after 124 years in operation, idling 71 employees. Prescription records would be transferred to a nearby CVS.
John Hinkle III, the fourth-generation owner of Hinkle’s, in a statement blamed the shutdown on its “declining financial position over the past several years.”
Lutz at that time called the announcement “devastating news” and “a huge loss to downtown.”
But two weeks later, the Murphys said they had agreed to buy the property and would reopen the restaurant Oct. 30, leasing it to three longtime Hinkle’s employees — cooks John Sipe and Robin Ortman, and store manager Tom Davis — and saving 30 to 40 jobs.
The four-day hiatus gave the team a chance to rehire employees and restock food and supplies, which they had been winding down under the assumption the restaurant would close for good.
“We wanted to get it open as quickly as possible, because we were concerned about retaining the current staff. They’re part of what makes Hinkle’s so special,” Don Murphy said.
“We obviously didn’t want to lose our customer base either,” he added, noting some regular customers eat all three meals a day there. Don Murphy said he ate there about once a month.
A deed recorded in the courthouse Nov. 7 shows the Murphys bought the 249-261 Locust St. property from John Hinkle III and his father, John Hinkle Jr. The property includes three apartments, all leased, and a 34-space parking lot.
The Murphys, operating as Cimarron Investments, have five other properties on Locust Street.
- 224 Locust St., home to Susquehanna Center for the Creative Arts.
- 301 Locust St., where the upscale Cafe 301 will open in February or March.
- 336 Locust St., home to Columbia Life Network.
- 369 Locust St., the former Columbia National Bank building, home to the Family First Health Center and eight luxury apartments.
- 401 Locust St., the former Columbia Trust building, home to St. Joseph Children’s Health Dental Center.
“We’re trying to make Columbia the booming town that it once was. It’s starting to pay off,” Don Murphy said. “There are more good things to come.”