MONROE, Wash. -- It's the end of an era in one small Snohomish County town.
The Hitching Post, a restaurant in the heart of downtown Monroe, will close on Sunday, barring a major benefactor stepping in, said owner Marie Maass. The diner, at 107 W. Main Street, has been in operation for 40 years, Maass said, but cannot shoulder rising rents.
"This restaurant represents the community," Maass said. "It's a community gathering place for everybody to come down. Everybody knows everybody. It's a small town. This is an icon."
Residents describe the Hitching Post as a figure tethered to the community; a diner where strangers become friends - who sit, share coffee, and the day's news. The eatery sits inside an old bank in a building that's been around since 1907, the owner said.
"I don't know where we're going to go," said Dick Angel, as he sat chatting with two pals on Friday morning. "The landlord's got another building over here that's been sitting empty for two years. If it was me I'd sure work out some kind of agreement, because I don't know what's going to fill this spot when she goes."
Maass took over the Hitching Post a few years ago after her husband passed away, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Her daughter waits tables, while Maass often sits and talks with customers as they dine.
"It's hard. It's hard at my age. I'm 67 and I'm starting over," Maass said, fighting tears. "I'm a pretty strong lady but this one's a kicker, again."
Maass says she pays $1,294 a month in rent, and the landlord wanted to increase that to $1,750. Residents have asked the mayor and the chamber of commerce to intervene, fearing that downtown Monroe could be at risk of having another vacant storefront.
"This is a part of the community that's been here for so many years. They're going to lose. They're going to lose a lot," said Nada Dyson, a longtime customer. "Losing someplace like this is going to be hurtful. It's going to be painful to everybody."
"We all have to make a profit, but not at the expense of taking away the way things used to be," added Maass. "You shouldn't take that away."