Balmoral community is key to Niki's Bar success
Niki Fitzgerald, who recently celebrated 30 years of running her bar in Galashiels' Balmoral Road, said the secret to the pub's success was the community itself.
Before moving into the pub trade, the 71-year-old was manageress at Melrose’s bakers in Channel Street.
Her then boss, John Melrose, asked if she would run the Balmoral Bar for him.
She said: “I told him straight, it would have to be as a partner, but it was a big decision to make as the pub was in a terrible state and it had hardly any customers.”
However, Niki saw the potential in the place – with its location in a highly-populated residential area a fair distance from the town centre – and got to work gutting it and making it her own, naming it Niki’s Bar.
Seven years later, John sold his share to Niki, and the pub was all hers.
But it wasn’t just the makeover that saw punters only too happy to make it their local.
Niki’s hobby is cooking – and she has always provided free food for her customers – including the pub’s three darts teams, two domino teams and pool team, which is always served with Niki’s winning smile.
She said: “It’s really heartening to see that today we are still serving the children and grandchildren of the people we served in the beginning.”
And, with the help of her customers, Niki has been an avid fundraiser.
She said: “Over the years, we have raised well over £100,000 for various charities, most of which have been put in the spotlight by our customers.”
Currently, she is raising cash for charities such as the Rowan Boland Trust, Macmillan Cancer Care, the Margaret Kerr unit at the Borders General Hospital and for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Niki has had many happy moments over the years as owner of the bar, but high amongst them was the fact that it brought her and husband Rich Fitzgerald together.
He had come in to work some shifts behind the bar, and won Niki’s heart.
The couple were together for 24 happy years ... and when Rich died last year, Niki was devastated.
She said: “He was always helping out around the place and the last thing he did was help to put up the wallpaper.
“He is massively missed.”
While Niki has since taken a back seat at the bar these days, she still cooks for her teams, and is actively fundraising and championing those in the community that need her help.
Rob Thomson, a customer for all of Niki’s 30 years, said: “I come here from Torwoodlee Road, it is a fantastic pub and Niki is one of the nicest people you’ll meet in the world.”
Another regular customer is Queen of the South manager Gary Naismith, who has donated a club top which takes pride of place on the bar wall.
Niki’s son Norman, 47, is now a partner in the business.
Niki said: “We both have a nice heart and a good business head ... and that’s served me well through the years.
“It’s not all about how much money you can make, it’s making a difference in your community.”
And it seems the dynasty could be set to continue.
Norman told us: “My six-year-old son Liam was asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, and he said he wants to help daddy behind the bar, so we could be here for another 30 years yet.”