Asking price for 215-year-old landmark $1.5M
By Sally Voth
The Wayside Inn is looking for a new owner.
Three-and-a-half years after buying the 215-year-old restaurant and inn at auction, Lois and Jacob Charon have listed it for sale on the market for $1.5 million.
The couple's winning $1 million bid came in April 2009 - about eight months following the death of the Leo Bernstein, the inn's longtime owner.
Last week, Mrs. Charon said the couple had "temporarily closed" the Wayside's dining room prior to Thanksgiving due to being unable to keep on staff. She didn't mention the sale.
Sager Real Estate agent Butch Barnes is working the listing.
"It's been on the market as a confidential sale for a few months, and now we're going public with it," Barnes said on Monday. "Basically, it was for sale, and it was listed in a few publications because they were continuing to run the business. They didn't want everyone to know their business was for sale. But, now since they've closed the restaurant part of it, they've gone ahead and let everybody know it's for sale, which was our [plan] all along."
Barnes said the Charons want to retire.
"The Charons are wonderful people to work for," he said. "They're upset, but they're just exhausted and are going to retire. They're still running the inn because they still reside on the property, but they're not going to do the restaurant business anymore. Two people trying to keep up with coordinating all the events, all the special parties and events, and then a nightly dinner -- it just got to be overwhelming to them."
Barnes said there have been several inquiries on the property, which sits on 3 1/2 acres.
"I would hate to see it be used as anything else but an inn and restaurant," Barnes said of the Wayside's future. "Since the 1700s it's been used as that. That's pretty much its historical nature. Of course, I don't have any say. Whoever buys it can turn it into whatever they want."
Originally contacted Monday, Mrs. Charon said, "there's no price" on the inn. Charon said she didn't want the price given to allow room for negotiations.
She said she and her husband hope whoever buys the inn keeps it open.
"If somebody wants to come in and run it, they can," Mrs. Charon said. "Otherwise, we will just live here."
For nearly 50 years, the Wayside had been owned by Bernstein, a Washington, D.C., banker and philanthropist. Legend has it Bernstein -- who was 93 when he died more than four years ago -- was driving through Middletown when he passed by the then-dilapidated hotel in 1960.
Bernstein bought and restored the inn, which had been operating since 1797. He soon bought what was renamed the Wayside Theatre, and continued acquiring and flipping properties throughout the northern Shenandoah Valley, including the Strasburg Emporium, Hotel Strasburg, several museums and Crystal Caverns.
His granddaughter, Ami Aronson, is the managing director of the Bernstein Family Foundation. She expressed concern about the Wayside Inn's future.
"Leo spent the last 50 years of his life in the Shenandoah Valley, and he stumbled upon the Wayside Inn and he fell in love with it," Aronson said. "He spent the last 50 years celebrating America's history and cultivating relationships with the historic staff and people in the valley who had never met a Jew before, but met one who was so generous and passionate about our country.
"The Wayside Inn is an incredible gem in America's history, and he subsidized the inn for many years to keep it open to the public. And, when you're looking at an asset that costs money rather than generates money, it became a liability, especially as the property went into the foundation."
The foundation was founded 60 years ago by Bernstein, and its mission is to "make grants in the areas of Jewish causes, American democracy, and arts & culture," according to its website.
Aronson said she was at the inn's auction and had thought the Charons would be good stewards of her grandfather's crown jewel.
"But, what was missing was their passion and commitment to American history," she said. "They got it for nothing. They got it for under a million dollars after closing."
Aronson called the sale of the property bittersweet -- on one hand "letting go of this legacy that Leo had," while also making a good business decision that would benefit the charitable Bernstein Family Foundation.
"Bottom line -- they bought a house and they're living in it," Aronson said. "We have tried many times to create positive communication to set them up for success. I think Leo's heart would be broken if he knew how they were treating the inn.
"God willing, it will find its restoration. It's unfortunate and I hope that life comes full circle and that these people have the heart and soul to sell it."
Contacted Monday and told the Wayside Inn was now for sale, Aronson called it "wonderful news."
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org