Aberdeen, S.D. Needs to Keep Airport Snack Bar

There was a time when Aberdeen Regional Airport's eatery was known by folks far and wide.

The Airport Cafe and Lounge in the old terminal offered hearty meals at an incredibly low price - especially considering what travelers are used to paying at big city airports. And usually the number of locals at the cafe far outnumbered the travelers. It was a thriving business.

But now the cafe at the airport is, at best, just a snack bar and its future is murky.

When the new terminal was built, airport officials decided it should have more of a delicatessen-style restaurant - not a sit-down establishment. That's when the problems started.

Ron Erickson, who operated the restaurant in the old terminal and eventually built a new building on the north side of U.S. Highway 12, was not interested in such a setup at the new terminal.

The city had trouble finding bidders to operate what ended up as a 400-square foot facility. For the first several months the airport was open, vending machines were the only option for food.

Then Jim Sandvig opened his SkyBar Cafe last October in the restaurant space in the new terminal. The city sank $79,000 into the eatery so Sandvig could get started.

Included in Sandvig's five-year contract was a clause allowing him to get out of the deal within the first year if the business wasn't making enough money. With the airport only having half a dozen round-trip flights a day and not even 40 people on each aircraft, it was easy to see that operating the eatery was a far cry from a sure thing.

Recently Sandvig announced he's pulling up stakes on May 10.

Now the airport board is scrambling to find another operator so the new $6.6 million terminal is not without a restaurant.

One idea is to offer the establishment rent-free to someone to operate the snack bar. (Sandvig was paying $4,200 rent a year plus $75 a month for utilities.)

The city's gone from having a well-liked and popular airport eatery that was a true local landmark to a situation in which there's talk of not charging rent just to get someone to run the restaurant.

It's great that Aberdeen has a new airport terminal. But many are scratching their heads and wondering why we had to mess with success when it came to an airport restaurant. But that is now history.

We need a snack bar at the terminal, even if it means the city has to to run it. The best scenario would be to have the snack bar run by a private business, but if that isn't financially feasible, the city needs to take over its operation. The city is already in the business of operating seasonal concession stands at Wylie Park, so it shouldn't be too big of a stretch.

Travelers need to be able to get a cup of coffee at 5 a.m. or a sandwich if they come in on the 11:30 p.m. flight. One way or another, the airport's snack bar needs to become a permanent enterprise.

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