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Thursday, August 22 Business

Changing tastes led to Black Duck’s closure

Over four decades, the Black Duck Cafe thrived as a riverfront destination in Westport. Changing times, and a transforming neighborhood, led to difficult days for the Saugatuck River mainstay, and its owners announced this week it will close on Sunday.

A Tuesday post on Facebook confirmed the decision.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce our closing. We’ve had an amazing 40 years here in Saugatuck/Westport, and we are grateful for every friend we’ve had the pleasure to serve and entertain along the way,” the Oct. 30 post read, noting the establishment will officially close Nov. 4.

Business hasn’t been what it used to be, according to co-owner Peter Aitkin, who opened the restaurant in April 1978. He recalled the Black Duck’s run during the 1980s and 90s as a popular venue for residents and visiting boaters.

That was a different time, he said, as the Black Duck now serves a remnant of the old days on the riverfront.

“Tastes have changed over the years,” Aitkin said. “People don’t drink like they used to, and if we had a few more months of summer… It’s tough having five busy months and seven slow months. Being on the water people think of us as a summertime institution, which is great if we had 12 months of July.”

In its 40-year run along the Saugatuck River, the historic Westport bar has seen the area transform, forcing it to adapt to survive and cater to its changing customer base. That included shifting from being a waterfront bar to focusing more on being a restaurant, serving American food, including seafood and hamburgers.

“We do a lot more food than we used to; we just don’t sell that much liquor,” Aitkin said.

The waterfront area along the Saugatuck River has seen new restaurants and businesses transforming the neighborhood. Even with the new additions, the Black Duck had its place among the shifting landscape, offering a taste of old Westport in the shadow of Interstate 95.

Black Duck has tried to keep the foot traffic consistent over the years with weekly entertainment four nights a week, like karaoke, bands and open mic events.

“There’s a lot of restaurants in the area and they are brand-spanking new, beautifully decorated, and we’re like a throwback,” Aitkin said. “I’d like to thank our clientele and thank our very loyal and devoted staff. … It was kind of the Cheers of Westport. People would come in here and see people they knew.”

After 20 years working at the bar, employee Tracy Segar fought back tears as she lamented the approaching closure of the restaurant.

“This ain’t a normal restaurant,” she said. “This is sort of a homey place. I’ve worked in different restaurants over the years and this is my favorite, and that’s why I stayed so long.”

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Like many on the staff, Segar said her years spent at Black Duck were spent making new friends with coworkers and customers.

After 40 years of serving residents, longtime customer Diane Silfen said the town was losing a bit of history.

“It’s sad it’s been around forever, and their food is great. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it over the years. ... Maybe someone else will come along and open it up, but it will never be the same.”

The future of the space is unknown even to Aitkin, who offered no detail into what could turn into.

The Black Duck Tavern will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday before it shuts down.

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com

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