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Sun sets on work life for Sundowner owner as Delta pub closes its doors

‘I’m 73 next month, that’s it,” Marilyn Sanders said with a laugh and a smile, typical of her very social nature
Sundowner owner/operator Marilyn Sanders outside the North Delta pub. Sanders has sold the building and land, and plans to retire after close to 60 years of work in retail and pub businesses. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

It’s been quite a run for Marilyn Sanders in the business of retail and pubs, and at age 72 she’s ready to say goodbye to the daily grind and head into the proverbial sunset.

“I’ve worked for close to 60 years of my life, so it’s time to retire,” said Sanders, owner/operator of Sundowner Pub.

She recently sold the building and land where the public house has operated for close to four decades, on 64 Avenue at 120 Street, on the Delta/Surrey border.

The pub will probably close forever after one final day of business, on Saturday, Nov. 6.

“It’s with very mixed emotions,” Sanders emphasized. “I love my staff and I love my customers, so it’s with a heavy heart that I do this.”

The future of the site is uncertain.

“The developers take over on the 30th of November, so I need time to, you know, clear out the stuff and get organized,” Sanders explained.

“I don’t think it will continue being a pub – not that I know of,” she added. “I’m in the dark a bit, but I’ve been told the buyer is a development company, that’s all I know. They just said they didn’t want the pub. I did have offers that included the pub, but they didn’t come to fruition. Most of them wanted me to stay for a year or two more, but I just don’t have it in me anymore.”

Sanders bought the pub in 2015 after two years of trying retirement, the first time.

This time she means it.

“I’m 73 next month, that’s it,” she said with a laugh and a smile, typical of her very social nature.

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The Vancouver-raised Sanders worked for the Safeway grocery store chain for 32 years before finding her way in the pub business, starting as co-owner of Kennedy’s Pub, also in North Delta, 24 blocks north of the Sundowner.

With Safeway, she was a purchaser and organizer of the company’s social events for more than three decades.

Reluctant to leave for a job in Calgary, she switched careers in the mid-1990s when friend and colleague Jim Spooner was looking for a pub business partner.

“I’d never been to Kennedy’s before that, no – but I knew about the Safeway store here, for sure. I knew where every Safeway store was in B.C., but I wasn’t really a pub person,” Sanders admitted.

“But I was a people person in the people business, because it’s all about people. (At Kennedy’s), I worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week, until one or two in the morning,” she added. “I did everything – the cash, ordering, deliveries, everything. Those were good days for me because I learned how to do everything, all aspects of the business. I was just like a sponge because I wanted to know everything.”

Sanders eventually sold her half of Kennedy’s and bought a share of Pitt Meadows’ Jolly Coachman, which she ran until 2013.

Two years later, the unhappily-retired Sanders got back into the pub business when the Podavin family wanted to sell the Sundowner. Ed Podavin operated the pub for close to 35 years, prior to his death in September 2014. He was 73.

• RELATED STORY, from Oct. 15: Popular pub on Delta-Surrey border to close doors again, six years after $150K in renos.

With the Sundowner, Sanders and her team renovated the place over a period of six weeks and reopened in June 2015. Close to $150,000 was spent on renovations, Sanders said at the time.

Thanks to COVID, business has been down over the past couple of years, but the retirement-minded Sanders said the pandemic is not why she’s selling now.

“You can’t operate on a 50-per-cent capacity, just no way,” she related. “I shortened my hours because of just not enough staff. We ended up closing on Mondays because of that. Last night we closed at 10, but some nights it’s at 8. A lot of the staff work 10 or 12 hours. They work so hard.”

The pub pivoted to outdoor seating for the summer months. Inside, it’s been busier of late, thanks to relaxed gathering restrictions and news of the Sundowner’s looming closure.

“People have been emailing me and calling, telling me to sell to them just so it stays open as a pub,” Sanders said with a laugh. “But it’s a done deal now.”

Sanders says she feels especially bad about no longer being able to host the afternoon meat draws at the pub, where the Dreams Take Flight charity and Pinewood school parents raised important funds for many years.

“I’m hoping they can set up at other pubs locally,” she said. “I don’t want anybody left behind, I want to be able to sleep at night knowing everybody’s got a paycheque and they’re happy, you know.

“Same with the staff here,” Sanders added. “It was really, really hard through COVID, and I made sure the employees who needed it were taken care of through that. This is a dream team here, everybody has been so incredible. I’ve written recommendation letters, and hopefully they’re OK. I try to treat everybody nicely.”

A Coquitlam resident, Sanders said she’s now “probably just going to catch my breath for a bit, because I have been working seven days a week, and I’m up at 5 every morning. I’ve worked hard my whole life, and I lost my mom last November, and a piece of me died. We were very close.

“And I want to spend more time with my grandchildren, who live locally. I’m proud of them.”

In mid-October, when Sanders posted news of the Sundowner’s closure with a simple pink sign on the pub door, longtime patrons recalled good times there, and wished her well.

“Started going there in ‘85,” Sonja Lillie posted on the Now-Leader website, ‘then bought a house nearby in ‘86. Was a regular until ‘12 when I moved to Oliver. Still came for the Sunday pool tournaments until they removed the tables, never to return. Lots of memories!”

Added Ian Vowles: “I grew up in Sunshine Hills. Moved away and came back to raise my family and have been here for the past 18 years. So many memories (and a few memories best forgotten…. lol) including my first legit beer at 19. I am sad but hope someone can continue the tradition!”

Shannon Dalzell also posted this: “Anything Marilyn does she does well. I suspect she will do retirement well too. Happy retirement Marilyn, well deserved!”

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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