Miss Bellows Falls Diner to be restored

The Miss Bellows Falls Diner. Photo by Joe Milliken

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The Miss Bellows Falls Diner, a longtime staple in Downtown Bellows Falls listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will soon be purchased. The diner was also recently awarded a $100,000 “historic preservation grant” from the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

The upcoming grant will greatly assist the local nonprofit group Rockingham For Progress, Inc. (RFP) in purchasing the original 1940s-style Worcester Lunch Car Co. diner from the current owner, Brian McAllister, who also owns Father’s Restaurant on Route 5 in Westminster.

Members of the RFP group, which formed in 2016, include President Bonnie North, Vice President Jeff Dunbar, Doug Anarino, Charlie Hunter, and Susan Macneil. RFP has been working on the project for the last six months, and their fundraising efforts so far have produced $100,000 to buy the barrel-roofed eatery. The Miss Bellows Falls Diner was originally built in 1941, and located in Lowell, Mass., before moving to Bellows Falls in 1944, replacing a smaller diner that was already on site.

“Last December, Charlie Hunter and Jeff Dunbar started casually discussing the possibility of reviving the diner as a community supported enterprise,” Bonnie North said in a recent interview. “Charlie and I were both on the RFP Board, and it seemed the appropriate entity to step up and make this happen.”

The classic, World War II-era diner, which still has many of its original fixtures and amenities, features a paneled, porcelain enamel exterior façade, stained glass windows, ceramic tilework, built-in coolers, five oak booths for family seating, Formica tabletops, and a full-length marble countertop with stool-style seating. In 1983, The Miss Bellows Falls Diner became just the second diner to be added to the National Register.

However, the diner has now been closed since before the pandemic over three years ago, and time is starting to take its toll on the over 80-year-old structure. Extensive restoration work will include the foundation, the steel and porcelain exterior, as well as rotting and bowed woodwork.

Along with their tremendous fundraising efforts, RFP is also working closely with the aforementioned Preservation Trust of Vermont, as well as America’s foremost diner expert, Richard J.S. Gutman. Charlie Hunter, who has Gutman’s book, “American Diner,” successfully reached out to the author, and he was willing to participate in the project.

“We met with the owner, Brian McAllister, in early January to take a closer look at the diner – and it needs a lot of work,” North said. “Jeff Dunbar joined our Board and we all sat down with the Vermont Preservation Trust and Richard J. S. Gutman for a deeper dig into what might all this entail.

“Undaunted, RFP put up a deposit and signed a purchase and sale agreement in January with Brian McAllister for the Miss Bellows Falls Diner. The sale will be complete on June 15.”

RFP will be using the nonprofit model moving forward, to make the project more eligible for potential grant funds. They will also continue to work with the Preservation Trust, as well as leading more fundraising efforts. In these early stages, it is estimated that the purchase and renovation of the Miss Bellows Falls Diner will cost around $500,000.

The recent, $100,000 Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant obtained for the diner is a tremendous addition to the project, as RFP works to keep this historic structure a vital piece of the Bellows Falls downtown area. Ultimately, RFP will be looking to lease out the restored diner for operation.

“Limited fundraising, so far, has been successful,” North concluded. “The Brattleboro Area Development Corp and the Vermont Preservation Trust are advising us on other grant and funding options, and a community fundraising effort will be launched later this year.”

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