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Parks Landing restaurant, a fixture in Westminster, closed for good Sunday after more than 20 years of serving steamed crabs and fried shrimp. The closure came without warning and surprised many customers, and angering those who had purchased or received gift cards to the restaurant a few weeks ago during the holiday season.

Some customers say they were told as late as Saturday the restaurant would be open — and redeeming gift cards — on Sunday.

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"My wife had bought a bunch of gift certificates for Parks Landing and now we are stuck with $80 in gift certificates," said Irvine Freyman, of Westminster.

"We've been going to Parks Landing just about every year since they have been open. I hate to see them close up, but if they are going to close up, they ought to at least let people know," he said.

Sandra Morgan now lives in Dillsburg, Pa., but the former Westminster resident was a loyal summertime customer when she was planning to purchase crabs. Upon hearing from a friend that Parks Landing was about to close, she tried calling the restaurant on Saturday, but to no avail. She finally made contact through Facebook.

"I contacted Parks Landing and was told we could come there to dine on Sunday and redeem our gift cards. To our dismay the doors were locked upon arrival on Sunday," Morgan said. "I am under the belief that many people are in the same situation as we are, stuck with gift cards purchased less than two months ago."

Morgan wrote back to the restaurant's Facebook account on Sunday after finding it had closed and received an apologetic message in response, which read: "Sandy, we had all intentions of being open today. We apologize for not being able to refund your gift certificates, but also please understand that we literally could not keep our business open for another day. We exhausted all options." It continued, "We are deleting our Facebook page because of the negative comments ...Thank you for your business over the years and we truly are sorry."

"They should have known in September if there were problems," Morgan said.

Owner Bill Parks said Monday it's true that Parks Landing was on shaky fiscal ground, but such had been the case every winter for many years.

"In the past several years, the economy has gotten so bad; the seafood industry has gotten out of control. The prices are so high it's hard to get the return any more. We lost a lot of volume because of the prices to the point where it has become a special occasion, fine dining type thing," Parks said.

"I was hoping to stay open and get through the summer when things normally get better, but a combination of things such as higher prices, low volumes and cold weather have made things worse where I didn't have a choice but to shut down."

Brianna Dix, a server who has worked at Parks Landing for the past six years, reiterated Parks' comments.

"Pretty much every year it kind of gets worse in the winter, but summer is a lot better, so we try to make most of our money then," Dix said. "If there was something Bill or the staff could have done to keep us from closing, I can personally assure you that it would have been done. Bill fought with everything he had to keep us from closing and it's been a long fight," she said.

Dix said she and her fellow employees found out only on Thursday the restaurant would be closing soon, and she was also told Sunday would be the last day of business. While she said she sympathizes, and apologizes to customers who have lost money on gift certificates, she wanted to let customers know the staff members are heartbroken over the closure, and also are out of an income.

"We just lost our jobs and our second family. I cannot emphasize enough how close-knit our staff was and the support we gave each other," she said. "We're extremely sorry our customers are suffering a loss, but please understand we're suffering a much more significant loss and we're hurting a lot, too."

Other Parks Landing employees both past and present also attested to the family-like atmosphere at Parks Landing.

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"As an employees of Parks, anybody will tell you, you're never really done. I went back a few months ago to help out," said Cory Evans, of Westminster, who worked at Parks Landing from 2003 until 2012, with the occasional return

"I grew up there. Grew up from a teenager into my 30s. I met my wife there. It's a very, very special place to me and I have nothing ever bad to say about the man, as a person or about how he ran the place," Evans said.

If the public and customers understood how much Parks cared about the community, they would understand why employees are being so supportive despite the business closing, Evan said.

"A perfect example would be every year the local fire department would do their carnival and for years he had done their crab cakes. I know what he paid for crab meat by the pound and what he was selling them for — he was selling them for next to nothing," Evans said. "He never wanted to pass the expense on to people. That's what he did for his community."

According to Parks, keeping the restaurant afloat in the winter had always been difficult, but it became apparent last week he would not be able to continue doing business for more than another two weeks at the most. Rather than keeping his employees in the dark, he decided to tell them Thursday that Sunday would be their last day of operation, but circumstances forced him to shutter the restaurant after dinner on Saturday.

"Everyone caught wind of [the closure] and there was rush of people coming in with gift certificates and whatever product I had was taken. I just had to close my doors. I had nothing left," he said. "A lot of people were very, very angry and a lot of people were understanding too. I have been in this community for a long time and I wouldn't try to hurt a soul. I am very sorry that it happened this way."

Parks said he feels terrible about people left holding unredeemed gift cards, and that he has been in that same situation himself and never intended for the business to close and leave customers in the lurch. Similarly, he didn't want to put his employees out of a job and himself out of business.

"I have 30 employees. Some are just kids, but some have been with me 15, 20 years. It's very tough for everybody," Parks said. "My life probably will not be the same; I have lost my business and I have fallen on hard times."

Parks Landing is not filing for bankruptcy at this time, according to Parks, and he said it is too early to determine what the future of the property will be.

"I have had some interest in a sale, but I don't know for sure. Nothing is in stone yet," he said. "I would like to do something and I don't know if it would be me running it or something like that. We'll see."

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.

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