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Posted May 1, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Wayside Inn sells for $1 million on auction block

new owners of Wayside Inn
Jacob Charon and his wife, Lois, of Triangle, stand outside the Wayside Inn in Middletown on Thursday. The Northern Virginia couple purchased the auctioned inn for $1 million. Rich Cooley/Daily

Owners of gas station-convenience store in Northern Va. snatch up piece of history

By James Heffernan — jheffernan@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN — A Northern Virginia couple purchased the historic Wayside Inn at auction Thursday for the bargain-basement price of $1 million.

Jacob Charon and his wife, Lois, own a gas station-convenience store in the Triangle area, south of Quantico, that is being taken by eminent domain for the expansion of the U.S. 1 corridor.

Charon said the couple were in the market for a new investment, and the Wayside, which has operated continuously since 1797, caught their eye. The couple visited the area and toured the property about two weeks ago.

“We’ve never run an inn before, but it looks like something we can handle,” Mrs. Charon told reporters afterward.

The Charons previously ran a hotel in Richmond, they said.

They said they don’t plan to make any big changes to the Wayside, with its colonial charms, 22 guest rooms, seven formal dining rooms, conference center and gardens.

“We want to keep it running as a nice inn,” Mrs. Charon said. “We’ll study how things are working now and then we’ll make changes as we see fit.”

One of the first orders of business will be righting the inn’s financial ship. In November, the Wayside was forced to cut back its hours of operation to five days a week, and guest rooms are available only on Friday and Saturday nights.

Gordon Greene, of the Cleveland-based Chartwell Group, conducted Thursday’s auction, which drew scores of curious spectators, including local business leaders and members of the Bernstein Family Foundation. The foundation, which consists of the children and grandchildren of longtime Wayside owner Leo M. Bernstein, assumed ownership of the property following his death in August.

Stuart A. Bernstein said the auction was bittersweet given his father’s passion for the inn, its history and the local community. He said the foundation would have liked to have kept it going, but no one in the family stepped forward.

“It really needs someone to be hands-on with it, and the people who bought it, I think, bought it for the right reasons,” he said.

Mrs. Charon said she and her husband have done some research on the Wayside’s history and will seek advice from the Bernstein family. Stuart Bernstein, who serves as chairman of the Bernstein Cos., a Washington-based real estate developer, sold the Charons their first apartment in 1978, she said.

The couple are already familiar with the inn’s signature menu item, peanut soup, and came away from their tour impressed with the staff, whom they said are “hospitable and friendly.”

However, the couple have not yet made a decision about moving to Middletown.

Mayor Mark Brown said he and his wife, June, will host a reception next week to welcome the Charons and introduce them to the community.

The auction drew prospective buyers from as far away as New Hampshire. The frantic bidding began at $500,000, but by the end it was a two-horse race between the Charons and another out-of-town bidder.

Charon said $1 million was as high as he was willing to go. “That was the limit.”

Stuart Bernstein said he was a little disappointed by the winning bid, but acknowledged, “these are difficult times.”

Brown agreed, saying he felt the inn should have pulled in at least $1.4 million.

“I think they got the bargain of the century,” he said, adding he feels that the couple will help restore the inn to its former glory.

The Charons are scheduled to take possession of the property May 28.

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