Billy Miner's in Fort Worth's Sundance Square will close Sept. 30

FORT WORTH -- Billy Miner's Saloon -- the 27-year-old downtown burger institution where a lawsuit once famously put the kibosh on customers' venerable tradition of throwing empty peanut shells on the floor -- will close at the end of September when its owner retires.

The restaurant, Third and Houston streets in Sundance Square, will serve its last burgers and longnecks Sept. 30, Sundance Square and the restaurant said Tuesday.

Owner Peggy McMullin, whose husband, Dick, died four years ago, said in a statement that she is ready to retire.

"My husband Dick and I poured ourselves into Billy Miner's and we have been so thankful for the support of Fort Worth and Sundance Square," said McMullin, who could not be reached for an interview. "Since my husband passed away, I have been considering the right time to retire. I am ready to leave the restaurant business and slow down."

McMullin's decision surprised Sundance Square. McMullin had about three years left on the lease for her 7,730-square-foot space, said Johnny Campbell, chief executive of Sundance Square.

McMullin told him last week that she is "tired ... ready to retire from the restaurant business," Campbell said.

The restaurant, as Peggy McMullin related to Campbell, was profitable from its first year and "every year thereafter," a highly unusual streak, said Campbell, who joined long lines of customers for a burger at lunch Tuesday after word got out.

Dick McMullin, a longtime restaurateur, quickly turned Billy Miner's into a local watering hole and meeting spot even before the 40-block Sundance Square development revitalized downtown. He offered free Wi-Fi access years before it became popular at coffee bars and bookstores, and he hosted Xbox tournaments.

The baskets of peanuts -- and Fort Worth tradition of tossing shells -- went by the wayside in the early 1990s after a customer sued, saying she hurt her back after slipping on a shell.

The McMullins also expanded the restaurant twice, taking in sections running along Houston between Second and Third streets.

"We are proud that Billy Miner's Saloon has been an anchor in Sundance Square for nearly three decades," Campbell said. "Dick and Peggy McMullin opened the restaurant at a time when downtown Fort Worth was being revitalized, and they helped build a base for people to gather."

What happens next for the space?

Campbell said he'd already fielded as many as four calls Tuesday after the news was released.

Sundance Square will probably look to use the space to expand its soft-goods retail -- apparel, accessories and gifts -- before it considers another restaurant, Campbell said.

In that case, Sundance Square would most likely divide the space into units of about 2,500 square feet apiece, with entryways on Houston between Second and Third, Campbell said.

With the Billy Miner's entrance at Third and Houston and its long west wall along Houston, breaking up the space would help create more activity on the street, Campbell said.

It would also better connect the east and west sides of Houston, Campbell said. The Reata restaurant sits on the west side of the street.

"In today's retail leasing wisdom, [the space] breaks up," Campbell said.

But "I'm not foolish enough to tell you it's not going to be a restaurant. The market tells you what you can and can't do. It's really not very magical."

Sundance Square would also look to relocate Western murals by painter Richard Haas that it commissioned in the mid-1980s and that now adorn the Houston windows of Billy Miner's, Campbell said. Haas also painted the Chisholm Trail mural in Sundance Square.

Campbell said Sundance Square retail sales will likely finish the year down 3-4 percent but have been buoyed by visitor traffic downtown. The city's convention and visitor traffic has been boosted by the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, renovations to other hotels and even business from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

With traffic up, "what we're dealing with is spending habits," Campbell said.

Occupancies in Sundance Square's 42 buildings and 4 million square feet are running at 93 percent, down from 98 percent in 2007 but still strong, Campbell said.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808