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Posted January 3, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Wayside feeling chill of economy

Sandra Williams, a server in Wayside’s dining room, shows off a plate of desserts to guests at lunch on Friday afternoon. Rich Cooley/Daily

Eva Gillespie, a server and front desk clerk at the Wayside Inn in Middletown, fluffs a pillow inside the Lincoln Room on Friday. The inn has implemented winter hours due to the downturn in the economy. Rich Cooley/Daily

Historic inn cuts back hours during the winter

By James Heffernan -- Daily Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN -- When longtime owner Leo M. Bernstein died in August, the Wayside Inn was faced with a difficult decision.

The economy was in a tailspin, gas prices were sky high, and traffic at the inn, which has operated continuously since 1797, had slowed to a trickle.

"Mr. Bernstein, he enjoyed having the inn open 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said General Manager Jennifer Anderson.

But those hours were difficult for the new ownership team, the Washington-based Bernstein Family Foundation, which includes the late real estate developer and banker's children and grandchildren, to justify.

"Clearly with my grandfather's passing, we wanted to be smart with our decision-making," including looking more closely at the inn's bottom line with the hopes of making it a more viable business, said Ami Aronson, the foundation's managing director.

Bernstein, who purchased the Main Street property in 1960 and immediately began restoring it and filling it with antiques, used the inn as a centerpiece for his local business operations and a venue for historical discussions, she said.

"In many ways, the Wayside was my grandfather's emotional sustenance. He wanted to keep it open, no matter what the circumstances. But now, with the economy being what it is, we're not in that luxurious position."

The foundation wanted to keep the inn open to honor Bernstein's legacy, Aronson said, "but we didn't want to compromise the quality of service."

In November, the inn and its dining room began closing on Mondays and Tuesdays -- what Anderson called "winter hours." The Wayside's 22 overnight rooms are now available only on Friday and Saturday nights.

The practice is not all that unusual for local inns during the winter months, Anderson said.

"We wanted to make sure we can accommodate our guests," she said.

The Wayside's dining room is now serving lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday, plus its traditional Sunday brunch.

Larrick's Tavern cut back to Thursday through Saturday in August.

The schedule will continue at least through the spring, Anderson said. The inn has tried to transition its regular patrons through the changes, she said, and a sign listing the new hours is posted on the door.

Anderson said she is hopeful that the economy will begin to pick up in time for the wedding season, and that Wayside can return to normal operations.

"It depends on consumer confidence. We tend to fall back into our regular patterns. ... But I'm optimistic about it."

* Contact James Heffernan at jheffernan@nvdaily.com

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