Conway's Red Top closes, dragged down by tax lien, competition

August 6, 2012
photo - Conway's Red Top at 390 N. Circle Drive. Photo by BILL RADFORD, THE GAZETTE
Conway's Red Top at 390 N. Circle Drive. Photo by BILL RADFORD, THE GAZETTE 

Conway’s Red Top served its last customers Monday afternoon as Conway family members shuttered the longtime Colorado Springs institution rather than face IRS seizure for delinquent federal withholding tax payments.

Jackie Conway, wife of Conway’s co-owner and president Dan Conway, said her husband wanted to pay employees and local vendors first after the local hamburger chain fell behind on paying its bills in the midst of the struggling local economy during the past few years.

Conway’s Red Top had employed 120 at five locations in the Springs and one in Pueblo at its peak, but has been winding down operations; it closed its original South Nevada Avenue location earlier this year and two other Springs locations July 27. Its restaurant at 390 N. Circle Drive, which closed Monday, was the last remaining location.

“We got behind on our bills and Dan had to choose between paying the help, the vendors and the IRS. You hope to get more business to catch up, but the penalties and the interest on the taxes we owed made it very hard to catch up,” Jackie Conway said. “Dan was hoping to save people’s jobs. ... We stayed open as long as we could to sell product and pay as many bills as we can.”

The IRS filed a tax lien against Dan Conway in September for $33,330.81 in unpaid withholding taxes for the first quarter of 2009, according to El Paso County land records. Withholding taxes are income taxes withheld from employee paychecks to satisfy their federal income tax obligations.

“We want our regular customers and employees to know how much we love them. One of our longtime employees from the South Nevada (Avenue) store told me that now she has to work somewhere else and it feels like work for the first time because she doesn’t have her family around her anymore,” Jackie Conway said. “It wasn’t just the burger competition that hurt us, it was all of the dining choices people have now. If you went out to eat four times a month in the past, you might eat with us twice. Now with more choices, you come less often.”

The late Norbert Conway co-founded the chain in 1944, serving hamburgers that were large enough that “one’s a meal.” After Norbert Conway died, Dan Conway and siblings Richard, Lynn and Patty Jo Conway took over the business, which employed about 15 other family members.

Lauryn Conway, daughter of Dan and Jackie Conway, said she started working at the chain when she was 12, met her husband there three years ago and has never worked anywhere else.

“It’s sad that we are losing our customers and family business. For me and all of my sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts and cousins, working here was all we have ever known. It is sad to see it go,” Lauryn Conway said. “I remember going to work for the first time at the Carefree store when I was 12 and it was scary. By the end of the day, I was having fun listening to the jukebox while we cleaning up and closing.”

Fred Bush, 75, said he has been eating at Conway’s weekly since he was in fourth grade, and introduced his children to the local chain over the years.

“I hate to see this; it breaks my heart,” Bush said. “I remember my mom sending my brother and I to the South Nevada location when she was working at a motel in Ivywild. She would give us 50 cents for each of us to get a burger, fries and a drink and we would have a nickel left for the jukebox.”

Gerry Spaulding, a Conway’s customer since the 1960s, said he is saddened to see Conway’s join Giuseppe’s Depot as a Colorado Springs dining icon that has shut down, victims of competition from better-financed national chains and franchise operations.

“It’s just a neat place. I like the old menus and the 1940s atmosphere,” Spaulding said. “I hate to see it go.”

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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