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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Borderline Comeback

The owners of Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks have announced they will reopen the bar this year — and even expand with a second location. The beloved Ventura County watering hole has been closed since the tragic mass shooting that took 13 lives there in November 2018. In a video posted to the bar’s Facebook page, co-owners Brian Hynes and Troy Hale confirm they are working to renovate and reopen the country-western dance club at 99 Rolling Oaks Drive. There is no official timeline. “It’s going to take a little while, but we will work towards it,” Hynes said in the video. While some marketing experts question the wisdom of reopening, the announcement sparked an outpouring of support from patron and neighbors on social media, some of which tagged their posts with “805 Strong.” One woman who was present the night of the shooting told the Business Journal she is “over the moon” that Borderline is coming back but did not want to comment any further. Thousand Oaks Mayor Al Adam told the Business Journal via email: “We are happy for Brian and his team and supportive of the rebirth of the Borderline. Reopening the venue will allow for so many local music and dance lovers to turn the page on tragedy and have a place to gather and reconnect.” The owners declined the Business Journal’s request for comments on the decision. Risky transition Despite the largely positive fanfare, Borderline’s reopening raises questions about how to appropriately manage a business in the aftermath of a tragedy. The issue is a thorny one, and different types of businesses and businessowners handle it differently. There is no handbook or single best practice that pleases everyone. For example, Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., which in 2016 was the site of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, reopened two years later with the same name and format, but in a different location. Owner Barbara Poma turned the original Pulse site into a permanent museum and memorial last year, founding a nonprofit called onePULSE Foundation to operate it. Several affected families accused Poma and onePULSE of inappropriately profiting off the murders, while others supported it as a way of honoring those who were killed. In Colorado, the Century Aurora movie theater reopened with regular operations just six months after a gunman killed 12 and injured 58 moviegoers in June 2012. In an attempted show of support, the theater invited victims’ relatives to a night of remembrance and a screening of “The Hobbit. Some relatives called the move “disgusting,” and a “publicity ploy,” according to a report by CNN, and called for a boycott of the theater. At the Oak Mall in Thousand Oaks, a Paper Source stationary store reopened without much public resistance four months after the owner’s ex-husband killed her in an attempted murder-suicide. The chain’s employees nationwide wore purple ribbons on the store’s reopening day to symbolize their support in the fight against domestic violence, and the Oak Mall outlet held a fundraiser for the victim’s children. One crisis communications expert believes reopening Borderline is a mistake that could draw significant backlash. “People are going to resent what is perceived as a lack of understanding, lack of sympathy and lack of appropriateness,” said Marty Cooper, a career crisis management consultant based in Encino. “(Some) will say it’s insensitive, it should be a memorial and shouldn’t be a bar. … My gut (feeling) is it will eat into their business.” He explained his opinion is informed primarily by the kind of place Borderline is. “If it was an elegant restaurant or a gym that doesn’t speak of booze and music and good times, it wouldn’t be so jarring. It’s jarring in light of what happened there,” Cooper said. He acknowledged part of the owners’ decision to reopen is likely financial, and that the necessity of making money can sometimes be at odds with being respectful towards victims of a tragedy. “If (the owners) don’t reopen, will they be out on the street?” he posited. “It’s easy for people to tell others what the right thing to do is. Who knows the bills they have?” Ultimately, Cooper said the reopened Borderline’s fate will be decided by how its consumers react. “A community like (Thousand Oaks) does not forget quickly,” he said. Dianne McKay, president of Mustang Marketing in Thousand Oaks, said, “There’s no decision that’s going to please everybody. … There’s no possible way they’re not going to get some blowback.” But in the long run, she said, she expects the people who loved and frequented the Borderline before the shooting to embrace it upon its return. “That was a family,” she said. McKay knows Hynes and Hale personally and said she is confident they took the time to talk to Borderline employees, customers and survivors of the shooting to make a sensitive decision about the bar’s return that the community at large will feel comfortable supporting. “I think they have been tremendous stewards of this horrible tragedy. They put their lives aside for a year to see what the right thing to do was. … I have a lot of faith in whatever decisions they’ve made.” She also pointed out that Hynes and Hale don’t own the building Borderline calls home, so their ideal vision for reopening it was certainly filtered through the property owner. “There’s a lot of moving parts that are outside the realm of what the public can decide,” she said. Healing process Kristen Walker, professor of marketing at California State University — Northridge, predicted a positive reaction to Borderline’s reopening on the basis that it is a community-focused establishment with a close-knit group of loyal regulars. “I see it as healing,” she said. “The idea that they’re identifying themselves already as ‘Borderline Strong’ means they’re reframing the nature of what happened as survivors. And I think a successful reopening illustrates that survival and shows that even after devastation, a community can still support a retail establishment.” That the owners waited more than a year to begin renovating and ramping operations back up, Walker said, shows they are sensitive to the traumatic memories that will linger in the space. She added that the frequency of horrific gun violence in the United States means victims are often swiftly forgotten as the media spotlight moves to the latest incident. Reestablishing Borderline’s presence, then, is a way to both memorialize those who lost their lives and bring affected families and friends together. Cooper, McKay and Walker all guessed Borderline will feature a ramped-up security presence and extra safety precautions for peace of mind. Walker said she expects Borderline to employ strategies of “social marketing,” a practice which aims to use traditional marketing tactics to inspire social good and improve community welfare by changing how people behave. Social marketing is often associated with the nonprofit sector, particularly around mental health issues. “They’re going to have to pull some of those strategies. At least I hope they do. Addressing things like fear, grief and shock … can have positive downstream affects when you’re making it a safe place,” Walker said. Cooper said he would advise Borderline’s owners to take every possible measure to make clear that they are still sensitive to what happened and those affected. He suggested an opening night fundraiser for the victims’ families would be an appropriate gesture. Added McKay, “if Brian came to me and asked, I would do some focus groups with survivors and employees — if they haven’t already — to get a consensus of what would make them feel best. Knowing you’re not going to please everyone you try to please as many as you can.” Sister location In tandem with the announcement of Borderline’s reopening, ownership also revealed plans to stand up a sister location called BL Dancehall & Saloon in Agoura Hills. A Facebook post from Borderline reads: “While the construction and reopening process continues at 99 Rolling Oaks Dr. in Thousand Oaks, we have decided to open in a brand new beautiful venue in Agoura Hills, owned and operated by the Borderline owners and staff to provide you all with a place we can all call home during the long rebuilding process of The Borderline Bar & Grill.” The new dance hall at 29020 Agoura Road will feature a custom-built dance floor, outdoor bar and patio, game room with pool tables and a stage for live performances. Its opening date will be revealed “very soon,” according to the post.

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