An architect’s rendering of the renovated and expanded Miss Bellows Falls Diner.
An architect’s rendering of the renovated and expanded Miss Bellows Falls Diner.

Bellows Falls diner plans come into focus

A nonprofit group looks to make the Miss Bellows Falls ‘a fully functioning, profitable diner’ to lease to an operator ‘without the burden of debt’

Plans are falling into place to make sure that a restored and reopened historic diner installed downtown 80 years ago heads into its next 80 years on a strong and sustainable foundation. Literally.

Over a year ago, the citizen's group Rockingham for Progress Inc. signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with former owner Brian McAllister, for the Miss Bellows Falls Diner, on Rockingham Street. The 1941 Worcester Lunch Car has been closed for over three years.

Rockingham For Progress, a civic organization formed in 2016, had been mostly inactive the last few years until it decided that restoring and renovating the diner would be a worthy next project. Board members include Bonnie North, Jeff Dunbar, Kristen Fehrenbach, Doug Anarino, and Charlie Hunter.

Andrew Dey has been brought on as project manager, and Raphael Rosner of Austin Design Cooperative in Brattleboro is the project architect, said Hunter, who serves as spokesperson for the group.

"No investor was going to take this project on," he said this past week. "The only way this can happen is through a nonprofit group like ours applying for historical restoration grants. This is not a viable project for a private owner."

A public meeting on the next phase of the project, revealing the restoration design details, is scheduled for Thursday, March 28 upstairs at the Rockingham Free Public Library at 7 p.m.

Several of the details on the newer parts of the buildings, including rooflines and exterior siding, have yet to be decided. But the group will reveal the design work completed so far, which they say will give a good idea of the general layout and appearance of the restored diner.

Several other public meetings about the project over the past year have allowed for open discussion of the project, offering details of the diner's history and public input about the restoration.

"This is our chance as a community to get this done and get it done right," Hunter said. "The idea is to get the diner set up for the next 80 years."

Restoration plans revealed

Like many a small-town diner, this one is in the village's historic downtown district and has been a center of community life for decades. And while a few local people have expressed their opinions about seeing a diner restored to exactly the way it was 40, or 60, or even 80 years ago, the restoration's guiding principle is to honor the building's history and create a space for a viable, profitable business in the decades to come.

Hunter said that the end goal is to recreate the original diner "as practical and durable" as possible for generations of use ahead, while still fitting in with the character of the village and the diner's important legacy in Bellows Falls.

"We want to get this done so an operator can lease it as a fully functioning, profitable diner without the burden of debt," he said.

Experienced, potential operators have already become involved in the project.

The proposed design addresses several of these issues. First - and, for many, most importantly - the main diner building will be preserved and restored. Several key elements in the diner, such as the counter, stools, booths, and other interior features, are in great shape and can be reused.

As many of the remaining original features and appliances will be reused as is possible or practical. Some, Hunter said, "are definitely worn out."

But other structural elements need replacing - in particular, the foundation.

When a smaller diner that had sat on the site for a few years was removed and the current lunch car was located in 1944, it was set much closer to the road. The original foundation was too small for the diner from the beginning.

The diner includes the property behind the building, which will allow for expansion of the building footprint about 10 feet into the rear of the property.

So a new basement and foundation will be created, with dry storage, and slabs will be poured to accommodate an additional dining room, bringing indoor seating up to 50 from the original 32 seats.

Also, the entire structure will set 5 feet farther back from the street. That will allow the addition of 15 to 20 seasonal outdoor seats along the front and end of the building.

The classic glass block entrance at the north end of the diner will be duplicated at all the new entrances, including a fully accessible entrance at the south end of the building.

Inside, a new accessible bathroom will be created, along with a larger separate kitchen space with new appliances, separate pass-throughs for food and dirty dishes, and a supply delivery entrance at the back of the building that leads directly to a new walk-in refrigerator.

A preliminary analysis has found that the site is not contaminated and that drainage is good.

"At this point we are getting prices for materials and that sort of thing," Hunter said. "Some aspects of the final design, such as surface finishes, will be decided as we get the pricing on materials."

The diner itself will be removed from the site and brought to a yet-to-be-determined indoor spot where restoration will take place. While that is happening, the new foundation and slab will be completed, along with other site work.

Plans call for the restored diner to be returned to the site, ready to reopen, in 2025.


While original estimates of the restoration came in at around $500,000, it is likely that doing the job right will end up costing close to $1 million, Hunter said.

He anticipates that most of that funding will come from grants.

Rockingham for Progress has raised about $175,000 in 2023, and group members are hoping to reach $200,000 from individual donors by April 1.

The money raised so far has already allowed the group to completely pay for the building and the lot it sits on.

A variety of new fundraising incentives are being offered by the group to community members who would like to be part of the process.

These include items from local businesses, such as diner soap from Grace and Miss Mouse Soaps, diner spice boxes from Halladay's Harvest Barn, a Miss Bellows Falls Diner pin by Amar & Riley, and vintage diner coffee cups. All profits from these sales, with prices ranging from $29 to $99, go toward the diner restoration.

Naming rights for a favorite counter spot, stool, or booth are also available for donations from $2,500 to $15,000. Efforts are already underway to do so in memory of local residents Gary Smith, Ray Massucco, and Curtis "Sparky" Caswell.

Details on how to support the effort, purchase Miss Bellows Falls Diner products, and more can be found at

This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.

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