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Family sells Venice Inn

April 14, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Venice Inn

The Vidoni children sold the Best Western Venice Inn Monday, nearly 50 years after their father started a restaurant on the first floor of their house.

The children grew up in the family business, which over the years underwent several major expansions. But after decades of putting in 80-hour weeks, they said it was time to give up the business on the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Dual Highway.

"I'm a couple years past retirement already. I felt it was time to retire," said Robert E. Vidoni, the oldest child of the late Ettore Vidoni, who founded the business.

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New OwnerBrian Nielsen, 35, an Illinois businessman, paid $8.5 million for the hotel and restaurant. He said he plans to spend about $700,000 over the next year on renovations and improvements.

Richard Vidoni, president of the business, will stay on for a few months during the transition.

"I'll try to learn what he's learned over 40 years," Nielsen said. "Not only does this property have a lot of history behind it, but Hagerstown has a lot of history behind it."

The Venice Inn was built from scratch by Ettore Avellino Vidoni, who left his native Italy for the United States in 1923.

He returned home seven years later and married Maddalena before moving back to the U.S.

Vidoni bought his home at the corner of the newly built Dual Highway in 1941, and seven years later, after working at various jobs, opened a restaurant. He named it Avellino's after his middle name.

Two years later, Vidoni added an 11-room motel and named it Venice for the Italian city 50 miles south of his childhood home.

Richard Vidoni, 59, said his father decided to open the restaurant because he thought the location would be ideal.

"As it turned out, it was. Back then, you could probably count the number of restaurants in Hagerstown on one hand," he said.

Fairchild employed about 12,000 workers during the Korean War, and Vidoni said the restaurant was packed when the shifts changed.

Adding motel rooms seemed like a natural outgrowth of the restaurant. Interstate 70 did not exist, and anyone who traveled east or west through Hagerstown passed by the property, he said.

The 1950s were boom years for the Venice, and one construction project followed another.

"We hardly went two years without having some project going on," Vidoni said.

The business now has 220 rooms.

In the early years, Vidoni said, the business almost took care of itself.

"You didn't have to worry about having sales staff back then. You put up a sign, and people would stop," he said.

Vidoni said he enjoyed talking with guests and meeting people from all over the world.

He also got to meet some famous people.

Singer Tony Bennett was a guest. So was Hank Williams Jr., although Vidoni said he had to kick him out after the country star came into the bar with a fifth of Jack Daniels and demanded to sing on stage.

In 1993, family members noted the difficulties of running a restaurant and hotel and questioned whether they would be in it in five years.

"We've been thinking about it for a few years. After you're in it for so long, you start to get stale. It needs some fresh blood," Richard Vidoni said.

Robert Vidoni said the children worked in the family business as kids and were encouraged to take it over. But he said they took the opposite approach with their own children.

"It's a tough business. The competition is fierce and getting fiercer all the time," he said. "You miss out on soccer games and school events."

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