The owners of the Hearthstone Manor want to find a buyer who would continue to operate the 48-year-old Depew banquet hall, which is closing, and they hope to pay back customers’ deposits for any cancelled events.
The Hearthstone’s owners and management still weren’t talking Friday, one day after news broke of the closing, but their attorney said the Hearthstone is working to help find new bookings for their customers and the owners hope the facility won’t end up shutting its doors.
Richard A. Grimm III declined to go into detail about why the owners made the decision to close, but he did say the theft of at least $60,000 by a former employee, who was convicted last year, was a deep financial blow to the venue.
“They were never really able to recover from that,” said Grimm, a partner with the Magavern Magavern Grimm law firm.
The Hearthstone hasn’t announced an official closing date, and the facility remains open for business, but the venue isn’t making commitments to hold any future bookings except for a large March 7 fundraiser for the Amherst Gaelic League that has been held there annually for 25 years.
The news of the Hearthstone’s closing sent engaged couples, meeting planners and nonprofit officers scrambling to find a new venue for their events, and to find out whether they’ll get their deposits back.
In response, the region’s banquet facilities and special-events spaces are working to fill the gap left by the Hearthstone’s looming closing.
“We put something together that we’re calling the ‘Ease their Pain’ special,” said James Urbanski, owner of the nearby Marygold Manor, in Cheektowaga, which has been in business for 45 years.
While the owners of the Hearthstone haven’t commented, Urbanski said the banquet and special event business in Buffalo is a crowded field with low profit margins, and he isn’t surprised by the Hearthstone’s closing.
Grimm said the theft by a former employee, identified by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office as Diane Hicks, a longtime Hearthstone office manager, put the company “behind the eight ball.”
Hicks pleaded guilty in March 2013 to grand larceny, was sentenced in June to five years’ probation and was ordered to pay $60,753 in restitution, said Candace K. Vogel, an assistant district attorney. While the total theft is unknown, Vogel said, “That’s what we could prove criminally.”
It’s not known how many workers are affected by the closing. A representative of the unionized Hearthstone employees did not return messages seeking comment.
The Hearthstone’s owners didn’t come to the decision to close lightly, and they are in talks with prospective buyers because they want to see someone else come in and keep the Hearthstone going, Grimm said.
The facility, at 333 Dick Road, is centrally located, has ample parking and was significantly updated about two years ago.
But its fate is unclear. “Right now they’re hopeful that they can find another operator,” Grimm said.
In the interim, Hearthstone employees are calling everyone who has an upcoming booking, including 35 engaged couples who had booked weddings or receptions there, to explain what’s going on and to help them find alternative space if needed.
The Hearthstone’s owners haven’t set a formal closing date, Grimm said, but they believe it wouldn’t be fair to customers to make a commitment to host a future event that they can’t keep.
Numerous other facilities are working through the Buffalo Bridal Association and Buffalo Wedding Magazine to reach Hearthstone customers, or are fielding calls from worried customers directly. Several local facilities are offering credits against any money deposited with the Hearthstone.
The Marygold booked three Hearthstone couples on Thursday alone – including one couple who contacted the Marygold last year but booked at Hearthstone instead – and is trying to match the same services and prices promised by the Hearthstone.
Scott W. Gehl, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, which had put down $1,000, in two installments, for an event on April 25, said he hasn’t heard back from Hearthstone regarding a refund.
Grimm said the Hearthstone’s owners are trying to arrange to pay back any deposited money.