Kelly’s Beach, a venerable institution of recreation and libation along the Kings River at the western edge of Reedley, has been sold to new owners after closing up due to financial stress from four years of drought and health concerns for longtime owner Michael Kelly.
The sale of the bar and restaurant was announced Wednesday morning on the Kelly’s Beach Facebook page. The business “took its last breath and regretfully submitted to the current times, the circumstances, and just plain age. It’s time,” Cindy Kelly wrote in the Facebook post. “We fought as hard as we could, guys. I swear there was no other way, and no more time.”
In another Facebook post late last week, Kelly outlined the challenges facing the business. “Many of you know that our property has been for sale for a few years,” she wrote. The resort suffered through “five years of bad luck – a flood in 2011 followed by four years of drought after that left our property in a foreclosure.”
“We continued to stay open and struggle, never giving up hope and have in the nick of time found a buyer saving us from complete loss,” Kelly added. The note stated that Mike Kelly recently had to be hospitalized for thyroid-related health issues, preventing the Kellys from holding a celebration to thank patrons for their business over the years.
According to information on Facebook, the resort was established in 1922 and was operated by the Kellys for 42 years.
Escrow on the sale closed Monday, said Preston Baker, one of the new owners. Baker grew up in Kingsburg, a few miles downstream from Reedley, and has his own memories of hanging out at Kelly’s Beach – including celebrating his 21st birthday at the bar.
Cindy Kelly’s Facebook announcement immediately drew an outpouring of lamentations from patrons across the Valley and throughout California who fondly recall summer camping and floating on the river as well as family reunions and other gatherings over the years.
“Kelly’s Beach will forever hold a special place in our hearts,” wrote Danette Guzman of Valencia. “My dad & family have been camping there for years! Nothing like it! My Dad’s favorite times were spent with the Daniels family at Kellys Beach. Thank you for always accommodating us & for the many years of amazing memories!”
Judy Shell Erb of Santa Fe Springs also praised the Kellys. “We enjoyed every year we were able to go to Kelly’s Beach and hang out with family and friends and the float was the best,” Erb recalled. “We also met some terrific people from Reedley.”
Nicole Zieba, Reedley’s city manager, said it’s natural that Kelly’s Beach would evoke fond memories. “I do think there’s an impact to Reedley” from the closure, she said. “This is quintessential Reedley. It’s a place where people from Los Angeles, from the coast, from the Bay Area, would come every summer.”
Baker, the new owner, has some prior experience in the hospitality industry, formerly running a bar called Bullfrog’s at the Riverland Resort near Kingsburg. “I heard that Kelly’s was for sale and I had a friend who was interested in starting a restaurant,” Baker said. “We came out and talked to Mike, and about a month and a half later, here we are.”
“My brother and I and some close friends used to tent camp on the river right next to Kelly’s,” Baker recalled. “My brother and his friends were older, so they could go to the bar. But we’d go out there and camp and fish and float. ... This place has been that kind of hangout for local folks for a long time.”
Baker said he and his co-owner, who wishes to remain a silent partner, are in the process of transferring the bar’s liquor license and hope to reopen the bar in about three weeks. A new name for the business has not been chosen, but it won’t reopen as Kelly’s. “No, we’ve got to let the name go,” Baker said. “That’s a family name for them, and I wouldn’t feel right about masquerading as an Irish pub with new owners who have no Irish heritage.”
The new owners also plan to build a full kitchen and focus more of their efforts on establishing it as a restaurant, but they don’t have a schedule for that expansion.
“I think there’s always a pang of sadness when you have a change like this,” said Zieba, the city manager. “But new beginnings are always so full of hope. We see a lot of potential for what the new owner wants to do” with a restaurant and live entertainment. “For years, this place wasn’t what it could be. This is an opportunity to turn it into the gem that Reedley knows it can be.”