WALNUT CREEK -- Most of these guys were early.
The meeting room at Carl's Jr. was reserved for 11 a.m. Wednesday for a gathering of the Sons in Retirement Branch 8's dominoes group. About 15 players were already there by 11, and drew dominoes to establish who would be partners.
Dan Rinaldi of Concord said he was going to miss the well-lighted room, and the games and conversation, that go on here. He pointed to the order counter about 30 feet away, beyond the glass separating the meeting room from the regular dining room.
"It's the convenience, and the ability to walk out there and get some good food," Rinaldi said. "And the price is right."
Most of these folks -- ranging in age from 67 to 89 on this day -- have been playing dominoes in the meeting room at Carl's Jr. for at least eight years. So to have groups playing duplicate bridge, rubber bridge and cribbage, said Rod Spicer, a member of the Walnut Creek-based Branch 8.
But these old-school gamers -- nine groups of them, 16 to 24 people per group -- will have to find new places to gather and play. The Carl's Jr. restaurant in the Citrus Marketplace shopping center at Oak Grove Road and Citrus Avenue is set to close after Friday's last "Six-Dollar" burgers and crisscut fries are served. The coupons for free and reduced-cost items ("at Walnut Creek location only") have been flying across the sales counter for a couple of weeks now.
One of Branch 8's bridge groups will
Carl's Jr. spokeswoman Tara Lindstrom said the lack of a drive-through window, combined with "increasing business costs" and the expiration of the building's lease, prompted the Carpenteria-based company to close its Walnut Creek store.
"We get 60 percent of our sales from drive-through customers," said Lindstrom, who called business levels at the Citrus Avenue location "all right."
She said the company is on the lookout for potential new locations, but wouldn't say whether Carl's Jr. will reappear in Walnut Creek.
The seniors hope new gathering places surface soon, though. One group will start meeting at Black Bear Diner in Walnut Creek, and another at Mary's Pizza Shack across the parking lot from Carl's Jr.
But finding new venues for many of these gatherings has been difficult, Spicer said. Though the SIR groups have participants from San Ramon, Clayton and even Oakland, most are from either Walnut Creek or Concord, and they're trying to find a meeting place somewhere close nearby.
"For small groups of seniors like us with small or nonexistent budgets, there aren't many places that will take us in," the 76-year-old Martinez resident said. The Sons in Retirement local branch has approached churches, fraternal organizations and operators of public halls, with little success in finding something both available and affordable.
"Right now, we're scattered to the wind," Spicer said.
The groups originally met in members' homes, but there are reasons that doesn't happen much anymore.
"The wives got sick of it," joked Joe Kelly of Concord. "Plus, it was getting pretty crowded, 20 people inside a house."
The seniors groups have had the Carl's Jr. meeting room booked three to five days a week all these years. The agreement is that everyone who comes will buy lunch, or at least drinks, but otherwise it's been free for those groups.
"I'm going to miss this place; there are so many friendly people here," said restaurant General Manager Diana Perez, who is going to become a manager at the nearest Carl's Jr., in Martinez. Of the senior gamers, she said, "They're always happy -- they even give me gifts for Christmas!"