HER En­ter­tain­ment HER Cover

GINA PARKS LEFT THE COR­PO­RATE WORLD TO DIS­COVER HER PAS­SION AS OWNER OF THE BIG CHILL

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents -

'Rais­ing aware­ness' More peo­ple in Hot Springs are work­ing to shed light on do­mes­tic abuse, but more needs to be done

In­ter­view con­ducted by Lind­sey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy by Grace Brown

From stock­bro­ker to bar owner, Gina Parks has gone from one spec­trum to the other in her pro­fes­sional life. When she be­came tired of cor­po­rate Amer­ica in the 1990s, and her mother fell ill, Parks said she took some time off of work be­fore ask­ing her­self what would truly make her happy and give her a steady in­come at the same time. It turned out that open­ing a bar was the an­swer. Just over two decades ago, she opened The Big Chill. The bar be­gan in­side the Park Ho­tel in 1997 be­fore mov­ing to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion at 910 Hig­don Ferry Rd. The lo­ca­tion has changed since the bar’s in­cep­tion, but the mu­sic has re­mained the same. Had you been in this kind of busi­ness be­fore open­ing your bar? Gina Parks: Not re­ally. I had been a stock­bro­ker and a com­puter tech­ni­cal rep, and I just de­cided that I was re­ally sick of cor­po­rate Amer­ica. My mom was ill, and she ended up be­ing di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer, so I took some time off for about six months and then she passed away. Af­ter that, I had to do some­thing, so I thought, ‘When did I not mind go­ing to work?’ and it was when I was in col­lege and a bar­tender with a bunch of other peo­ple in this town. So, I thought, ‘I’ll just get a bar job.’ I went down to the news­pa­per and looked in there, and there was an ad that said ‘Bar help or lease to right per­son.’ I went down and looked at it in­side the Park Ho­tel and I said, ‘OK, I’m the right per­son,’ and I leased it.

I had a friend, John French, who I went to high school with, and he came through and said, “We need to just build you a stage over there in that cor­ner and put a gui­tar and a mi­cro­phone in here, and mu­si­cians will start com­ing through and play­ing.” So I did, and they did. Af­ter a while every­body started lik­ing it, and they started com­ing by and be­fore long I had to hire a cock­tail wait­ress, or a bar­tender, and then I started pay­ing a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent peo­ple to come play on Fri­day and Satur­day nights. It was just nuts. We started hav­ing par­ties up on the roof at the Park. We had a bunch of wed­dings and be­fore long the ho­tel started do­ing a lot bet­ter than they had been and their books started look­ing bet­ter, so the own­ers said, “Well, this would be a good time to sell it,” so they did. Long story short, the new man­ager ended up be­ing a crook and de­cided that he wanted all the busi­ness that I had in the bar, so he told me, “We’re go­ing to take the bar over.” It was New Year’s Day, and I said, ‘I just did my year-end in­ven­tory, it’s yours. I’ll have my stuff out tonight.’

I took a year off. I ended up rent­ing this build­ing on Hig­don. My friend, Joe Hall, who’s a great mu­si­cian and a great friend of mine, helped me and was kind of my part­ner for a lit­tle while in the be­gin­ning. We kicked it off, and we had all these mu­si­cians that would come by and say, “What can we do to help?” and I had a list for them. It was re­ally a com­mu­nity thing be­cause they were all want­ing a place to play. A lot of peo­ple were want­ing a place to go. We opened here on Dec. 13, 2000, and I bought the bar a few years later. What do you love about your job as a bar owner? GP: The mu­sic, no doubt. I like to sing; I have per­formed with some peo­ple through the years, and the mu­si­cians are my broth­ers. I love them. They are

what I sup­port. I’m not go­ing to lie to you, there have been some hard times where I’m just like, ‘Oh, I can’t do this any­more,’ but some­thing al­ways comes back around and makes me happy that I’m here. Nights when I’m in here, and there’s a good crowd, and the mu­sic is play­ing—some­times magic hap­pens in here. I live for that. I’ve made a good liv­ing, and I’ve got an awe­some crew that’s been here. What have been some of the chal­lenges you’ve faced? GP: The re­spon­si­bil­ity of deal­ing with al­co­hol and peo­ple is some­thing that I don’t think a lot of peo­ple un­der­stand just how hard it is. Liv­ing up to the ABC’s ex­pec­ta­tions. Not serv­ing mi­nors when there are so many peo­ple that’ll bring fake IDs in. Mainly it’s just peo­ple, men and women, who come in with an at­ti­tude. You can see it the minute they walk in. Just the neg­a­tive per­son­al­i­ties, but the pos­i­tive per­son­al­i­ties far out­weigh the neg­a­tive.

Does it keep you up at night to think about the peo­ple who leave the bar in their ve­hi­cles af­ter drink­ing?

GP: It doesn’t keep me up at night be­cause my staff is very con­sci­en­tious about it. I’m not go­ing to say that it doesn’t ever hap­pen, but my bar­tenders will cut you off, and it makes peo­ple mad. That’s re­ally hard to deal with. If you come in and you do a shot, and then 10 min­utes later you or­der an­other one, and then 10 min­utes later you try to or­der an­other one, we won’t serve it to you. The thing is, we don’t know how much you’ve had when you walk in the door or what other sub­stance you might be abus­ing. Yes, I’ve lost sleep over it, but at some point peo­ple need to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves. It’s re­ally got­ten eas­ier lately be­cause of Uber. How many em­ploy­ees do you have? GP: Cur­rently, about seven. What’s the se­cret to stay­ing in busi­ness this long? GP: In Hot Springs, it’s re­ally sea­sonal, and so you have to re­ally bud­get your­self. Septem­ber is re­ally one of the hard­est months to make it, when the kids go back to school and the tourists aren’t here. I guess just putting the money back and sav­ing it and stay­ing on top of your sales tax, your pay­roll tax—I do all that my­self just be­cause I don’t trust any­one else. I want to know it got mailed, and that it was right. Hav­ing some­what of an ac­count­ing back­ground has helped me.

As far as longevity, I think treat­ing your em­ploy­ees right and mak­ing sure that they’re happy, the ones that are do­ing their job and do­ing great. That, in this busi­ness, is very im­por­tant. Do you have live mu­sic ev­ery night? What kind of mu­sic do you stick to? GP: I did have live mu­sic ev­ery night up un­til a year ago. It just seems like—I don’t know if it’s the gen­er­a­tion that’s com­ing up now or what, but they’re less in­volved in live mu­sic. It’s hard to get peo­ple out for it. The whole dy­namic has shifted, and it’s been kind of in­ter­est­ing to watch it.

Choos­ing the mu­sic is an­other area that I’m re­ally hav­ing to ad­just to. I have Mike May­berry, and I’m just go­ing to call him a cover band. He does clas­sic rock, coun­try, a lot of dif­fer­ent things. That kind of band, right now, is what’s work­ing. It seems like the younger women are re­ally into coun­try. They sit there and know the words to ev­ery song. It’s just trial and er­ror.

I’m also try­ing to go to al­ways charg­ing a cover on week­ends. I didn’t up un­til this year. I kind of feel like mu­si­cians need to be paid. They haven’t got­ten a raise since the 70s as far as I can tell! They play for the same amount of money, so the cover charge is go­ing to­wards the mu­sic.

Gina Parks at The Big Chill

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