For nearly 70 years, The Canyon Inn poured beers for hot, thirsty, fun-loving patrons. For parts of those years, as the valley suburbs pushed east and south, construction crews building all those Cottonwood-area homes came in droves for lunch. They came on Sunday nights when The Canyon Inn was known for serving one of the best steaks in town. They came before and after a day of skiing at Brighton, Solitude, Alta or Snowbird. They came as well to find a bit of privacy—even Utah's highbrow or closet drinkers—to a watering hole removed from the hubbub and snoopy eyes of city-slicker clubs.
They came to party.
This past Saturday night, the party ended. The Canyon Inn closed its doors and poured its final glass of beer, spilled its final shot of tequila, and served up its last slice of pizza. The band did not play on. The jukebox quit. Kaput. Just like that.
Except it wasn't really "just like that." The Canyon Inn—once isolated among small family farms and apple orchards at the intersection of Fort Union Boulevard and Wasatch Boulevard, smack at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, stood a proud watch over the enormous growth in that area. And the property became desirable, to say the least. To the east of The Canyon Inn, for example, is what is said to be one of the busiest 7-Eleven's in the country. Could be. Even if it's not, there's little doubt that the roads converging there deliver more than their fair share of traffic in and out of the area, in and out of The Canyon Inn. And therein lies the rub.
At the same time the property surrounding The Canyon Inn increased in value, the most recent proprietors of The Canyon Inn (Jim Stojak and wife) began noticing a most peculiar effect—their business was going down, not up, in stark contrast to businesses around them, which were benefitting from that growth and increased traffic. It wasn't that their pizza was burned nor that their beer was flat. It was due, they documented and loudly claimed, to their customers being unfairly targeted by the local Cottonwood Heights Police Department. From photos, to videos, to individuals writing letters or offering to legally testify, The Canyon Inn owners built thick dossiers of what they considered evidence of police harassment of their customers.
Since at least 2011, this newspaper and other media outlets have reported about the growing sense that The Canyon Inn was being targeted. Before that, in 2009, City Weekly reporter Jesse Fruwirth revealed alleged insider deals between the city of Cottonwood Heights and private developer Terry Diehl, who was seeking approval for his high-density, high-rise Tavaci project in the foothills above Cottonwood Heights. The group Save Our Canyons had accessed city's emails compromising the city position of transparency with the public. In 2010, KSL reporter John Daly aired his take on the controversy as well, revealing at least a six-month gap between the time the city first began rezoning discussions on the Tavaci project and the date on which city officials hoped to make the news public to Cottonwood Heights residents. It wouldn't be the first time in sloppy city politics that a phony public hearing and a "that's not what I meant when I didn't say it" statement resulted in a fait accompli public screwing.
That's all just background. The property directly south of The Canyon Inn that once housed The Canyon Racquet Club on Wasatch Boulevard (plus the Canyon Inn property and other private lots along Fort Union Boulevard) is, for obvious reasons, highly coveted by developers, who see it as a primo locale for a nice shiny hotel or modern commercial complex. City officials see dollar signs in the form of new tax revenues. It can be fairly said that Cottonwood Heights and the developers, while yet to consummate, have passed the wet-tongue phase and are, by now, familiar with each other's private parts. Yes, it's a love affair.
Trouble is, The Canyon Inn didn't want any part of a threesome, and somebody had to go. As reported by Stephen Dark in City Weekly in 2011, in the years 2006 and 2007, Salt Lake County Sheriff officers made 112 DUI arrests in Cottonwood Heights. In 2008, Cottonwood Heights created its own police department with former county Sheriff's deputy Robbie Russo hired as chief of that department. By December 2010, Cottonwood Heights recorded 527 DUI arrests. According to Stojak and others, the cops were overtly harassing customers of The Canyon Inn in an effort to drive him from business, clearing a path to more lucrative development on that corner. Revenues collapsed as once-loyal customers simply quit going to The Canyon Inn. On nearly any evening over these past years, at least one police vehicle—either marked or unmarked—managed to find itself in close proximity to The Canyon Inn, intimidating customers, issuing citations, and driving them from the neighborhood.
Cottonwood Heights officials disagree with that account. Just doing our jobs, they say. Keeping the public safe, they say. We love our businesses; we'd never target a business like that, they say. Well, those Canyon Inn customers are breaking the law, they say. I didn't say what you think I said, they say.
Maybe, I say. And maybe Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore will talk to me—privately, of course, and off the record—so I may become educated on how to cover my ass and decide which laws to enforce and who to set the dogs upon. Meanwhile, I'll take him at his word, that he really has the public interest at heart, and that he is not the manipulating buffoon many people make him out to be.
Wait, wait! I'm must be drunk. Pull me over Kelvyn, I believe The Canyon Inn.