Sandy Hislop’s decision to close The Nautical Inn is really a turning point in two stories: the history of the landmark restaurant and her personal career.
“It’s time,” says Hislop. Sitting on the deck overlooking Pelican Beach, just south of the Oregon border, she glances out and says, “I’m going to miss this.”
She expects a foreclosure notice to be posted on the door of the oceanfront restaurant soon. To be able to get all her furnishings and equipment out, she plans to close the restaurant Sept. 12, whether formal notice has been served or not.
The cause is tax trouble, Hislop explains. Her late husband Keith handled all the finances and bills; when he started his battle with cancer two years ago, he stopped paying payroll tax withholding and California sales taxes.
“It’s really a hard thing,” says Sandy. Since his death in March 2012, she has had to choose between paying the back taxes, paying her home mortgage and paying the Nautical Inn mortgage.
“I could never understand why he didn’t like to pay bills,” she says of Keith. She can see signs that he was, instead, making large contributions to religious organizations. “At least it went to help someone,” she shrugs.
She moved to Brookings as a child in 1950, when her father became superintendent of a mill, and she’s a Brookings-Harbor High School graduate. She’s left Brookings only once, spending two-and-a-half years in Portland during her first marriage. “I hated it,” she explains, and her ultimatum brought the family back to Brookings and a job with Mattie’s Pancake House.
A few years later, in a bit of foreshadowing or irony, she bought what became Sandy’s Country Kitchen when the owners faced tax trouble. For 20 years, it was a fixture in the Brookings-Harbor Shopping Center, and she was a leader in the business community. When the Mode O’Day dress shop went out of business, she opened a kitchen store next door.
When the Hislops sold, their plan had been to open a new restaurant in the top floor of the “green ghost” — the unfinished building in the Port of Brookings Harbor. The plans were stalled for 18 months.
“I was going nuts,” she recalls, “and then this (The Nautical Inn) was for sale.” That was eight years ago.
The older part of the building (now the formal dining area) has been a restaurant since the 1950s, she says. The lounge portion sits where a row of motel units used to stand, leading to some colorful stories that have come to her over the years.
Like many who lived in the area before the demise of the timber industry in the 1980s, Sandy can provide an oral history of people and places and their connections.
The unique inlays and artwork in the lounge were done by Danny Knot, whose family owned The Nautical Inn, says Hislop. The Hislops bought the building from Jim and Wendy Rogers, just after there had been a fire in the dining room.
Since she announced the closing last week, there have been inquiries about purchase that she has sent on to the lendors. Offers to buy some of the furnishings have been politely put on hold, though the free-standing bar and the grand piano have been listed for sale.
Her favorite meal over all those years and restaurants? The scallops at The Nautical Inn. Her favorite job? Being out on the floor of the restuarant to take orders or bus tables.
“I like to be out with the people,” she explains. “I help bus tables just to be able to chitchat with people. I’m here every day.”
And when she takes a rare day off, she spends it in her garden, enjoying fresh vegetables, flowers and a fish pond. “I could be out there 24 hours.” She plays golf, but is not in the habit of cooking for herself. If she moves, it will be only because the house is too big for one person.
She knows one thing for certain: “I’m not going anywhere; I like it here.”