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Century-old Atherley Arms goes up for sale

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

The area's oldest strip club is up for sale. The Atherley Arms building, which is over a century old, is listed with CB Richard Ellis, an international commercial real estate company. Agent Ilia Pavlovsky said he could not provide details into the sale.

"That's private," he said on Thursday.

The white stucco building with brown trim is showing its age. The siding is peeling, paint is chipping and shingles deteriorating after having lived two very distinct lives.

In the beginning it was the famous Atherley Arms Hotel, nicknamed The First.

During prohibition, which began in the early 1900's the establishment was the only place that could sell alcohol as it was outside Orillia, said Bruce McRae, treasurer Orillia Museum of Art and History.

"It was the first place to purchase alcohol, hence the name The First," he said on Thursday. "An expression used by some people during the time period was 'Going over the bridge'... to mean going over to The First."

The hotel attracted tourists from as far as Toronto and was popular with families and friends, enjoying a "nice" night out with live music.

In recent decades, the building has been a strip club by the same name.

"We're heartbroken about what happened to it," said Marie Misinchuk.

Her husband and father-in-law owned the hotel from 1946 to 1979.

"It's so deteriorated everything looks so badly," Misinchuk said Thursday. "I don't even go to Atherley. It was our livelihood, so we really cared."

Misinchuk wants Orillia to remember the hotel as it once was.

Coming home from the Second World War, Misinchuk's husband Wally took over the business with his father Micheal.

"It was the most wonderful place," Misinchuk said. "When the factory workers got out for the day everybody came in for a glass of beer. There was no where else to go."

The hotel provided guests with live music and 10 cent beer, she remembers.

Local piano man Norm Clemons would play for the crowds each night and Misinchuk recalls people singing along.

"You couldn't dance," she said. "You had to have a permit for that and we didn't have a dance floor."

Local musical legend Bob Branch, known as Bobby Blue, played rock music there in the 1970's.

"Everybody always had a wonderful time," Misinchuk said. "It was just a fun place to be."

The family was forced to sell the hotel in 1979 when Wally had a heart attack.

"We had no other choice," Misinchuk recalls.

In its later life the Atherley Arms was hit with turmoil.

In 2004, David Dumencu, 42, a dentist from Milton lost his life outside the strip club. He took a lethal fall in the parking lot on July 16, 2004 that eventually killed him.

In late 2009, a jury ruled that the former owners of the Atherley Arms, along with its former operator and bouncer, were negligent that night.

The total damages have been pegged at $3.1 million, but because Dumencu himself was also ruled to be partly responsible, the late dentist's family was entitled to roughly $2.6 million.

Evidence pointing to the sale of drugs, over-serving of alcohol and serving alcohol to a minor resulted in the Atherley Arms Hotel losing its liquor licence in August of 2008.

The board of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) found the numbered company that operated the Atherley Arms -- and its principal, Bert O'Mara -- had breached sections under the Liquor Licence Act and Ontario Regulation 719/90 on March 5 2008.

"The establishment openly allowed the sale/use of narcotics by patrons on its premises. The problem of narcotics was extensive on many levels," stated the AGCO board panel decision. "Thus, the managers in charge of the establishment... either knew or ought to have known that illegal drug use and transactions were taking place."

The strip club remained open despite losing its licence.

There was a time the Atherley Arms was so safe, Misinchuk didn't give a second thought to living and raising her three sons in the hotel. They lived in the hotel for over eight years and later lived next door.

"For 33 years of our whole life was dedicated in there," she said. "We cared about it and we cared about the patrons. They were like our family. There was never any problems."

When the family first purchased the hotel Misinchuk worked in the coffee shop and wasn't of legal drinking age.

"I couldn't even go and have a beer," she said. "When I became 21 all my friends came for a beer."

While sipping her first beer, Misinchuk got quite a shock.

"The inspector from the liquor control board tapped on my shoulder and said 'You're not 21 yet.' I said 'Yes I am today,'" she said. "They were so strict back then."

When prohibition ended in Orillia in 1955 the Mayor of the time booked the hotel to celebrate, Misinchuk said.

"They booked the hotel for 250 people to celebrate that there is no more dry Orillia," she said.

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