Stratford Bingo Hall Lease Axed Fuels Community Backlash and Petition

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Over the years, Stratford Country Bingo, a beloved local establishment in Stratford, has built a solid reputation as more than just a game venue; it has become a cherished community hub where residents gather, not just to try their luck, but to bond socially. However, the city-owned Burnside Agrilplex, which has been home to the bustling bingo hall for over a decade, has plunged into uncertainty following the unexpected decision by the city not to renew its lease.

Brenda Ehnes, who was formerly a bingo caller and an ardent advocate of the bingo hall, hosted a town hall to respond to the shocking revelation, expressing her disappointment. She is one amongst many who perceive the bingo hall as not just a commercial structure, but a family, passionately stating, “The bingo hall is more of a family than anything.”

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Unsurprisingly, the decision has sparked outrage amongst the community members, leading Ehnes to initiate a petition against it, managing to gather over 300 signatures to date. Despite operating at a modest average daily attendance capacity of 43 people out of a possible 300, Stratford Country Bingo has maintained a dedicated clientele for years, suggesting its importance stretches beyond its business utility.

The city’s rationale behind the controversial move primarily revolves around broader community development. According to Tim Wolfe, Director of Community Services at the City of Stratford, the city wants to implement a varied range of programs in the Agrilplex, such as senior and youth programs, day camps, and sports tourism, which were held back due to the bingo hall’s seven-day operation.

Despite these lofty visions for community betterment, the city’s offer of relocation to the Tim Taylor Lounge at the Stratford Rotary Complex, has proven unsatisfactory for the bingo hall. John Rinn, the owner, insists that the offered space, which is less than a fourth of the current venue, is inadequate for the strict compliance norms issued by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. To date, Rinn has unfortunately not managed to find an alternate location within Stratford, leading to further anxiety among the regulars at the bingo hall.

Compounding these concerns is the fact that the bingo hall aids more than a dozen charities, one of which, Stratford Civic Beautification and Environmental Awareness Committee, entirely relies on the proceeds from Bingo Country. Describing the potential finality of the bingo hall’s demise as a “big loss”, member Jane Marie Mitchell has further fueled calls for a reconsideration.

Despite the city not currently listing the issue on their agenda, regulars like Ehnes remain undeterred and hopeful for a possible compromise. Ehnes is prepared to voice her protest outside Stratford City Hall and passionately pleaded for at least an extension of the lease, giving the owners of Stratford Country Bingo a chance to find a suitable relocation site. This spirit of defiance indicates that for Stratford citizens, their beloved bingo hall remains an invaluable facet of their community.