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Customers say they'll miss Jeannie's Restaurant

April 01, 1999

Jeanne HouseBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




WILLIAMSPORT - It seemed like a normal, busy weekday lunch hour at Jeannie's Restaurant in Williamsport.

Hungry patrons poured through the front door to meet friends and family for steamers, chicken-fried steak and hand-dipped ice cream.

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Regulars Max Kendall, Leroy Myers and O.E. Cecil, all of Williamsport, sipped coffee at the bar.

The aroma of cooking grease hung heavy in the air. The candy counter was stocked with sweets. Dolores Shipley flipped burgers on the grill, and Mary Bricker ladled liver and onions.

Just as she had for the last 53 years, owner Jeanne E. House, 77, made milkshakes and change, and greeted her customers by their first names.

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But it wasn't the same.

The Williamsport square landmark, which opened in 1946, closed its doors forever Wednesday.

"It's the end of an era," patron Gwen Bishop said.

The floral arrangements flanking the cash register, signature-crammed retirement card passed from table to table, and a large cake beneath the far wall's C&O Canal mural made tangible the undercurrent of sadness in the restaurant.

And there were tears.

A former schoolteacher, Cecil said he's been dining at Jeannie's since 1949.

"It's a warm, hospitable place where everybody gets to know each other, like family," Cecil said. "Yep, I'm gonna miss that pan-fried chicken," he said.

George Stumbaugh, owner of George's Interiors across the street, said he's been a patron for more than 25 years.

Daniel "Buck" Knighten, of Hedgesville, W.Va., said he stumbled upon the restaurant about 20 years ago.

"Jeannie makes the best fried chicken around," Knighten said. "I don't know where I'll go now."

Many regular customers echoed that sentiment.

"I've had so many people say, 'Don't do it. Don't do it,'" House said. "But I need to go on and quit before I die in here."

The soda fountain and candy store that she converted into a full-fledged restaurant has been a big part of her life. She raised her only daughter, Marilyn Miller, within its walls.

"I learned more than counting change in this restaurant," Miller said. "I learned morals here, and ethics."

Miller, who lives in Florida, said her return to help her mother close the business has carried her back to her childhood.

As she fixed an authentic cherry Coke behind the counter, Miller remembered her mother feeding families too poor to pay for their meals.

She pointed to several older patrons, remembering them as the teenage boys her mother hid from police under the cellar steps when the kids were caught fighting.

House said such loyal patrons, and dependable employees, made her success possible.

"I've been so lucky because I've had good people around me," she said.

Shipley has worked for House for 27 years and Bricker has worked at the restaurant for 15 years. Former employee Bob Gordon said he still serves himself when he comes in for a bite.

"I'm going to miss that," Gordon said. "I dearly love this restaurant."

As does its owner.

To keep her emotions at bay, House hustled between tables, took orders, made change, and fixed shakes and sandwiches. She warded off tears when a customer gave her a box of chocolates.

House had hoped to leave the business to Miller, but said her daughter has a life of her own in Florida.

She had the restaurant up for sale, but got no offers.

"This is a lot of work," House said. "A whole lot of work."

House said her retirement plans involve the home she and her husband bought and renovated 11 years ago.

They've never had time to really move in, she said.

"I think it's wonderful that she's going to find time for herself," said longtime customer Dot DeHaven of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Where will DeHaven go now for her favorite steamers and Cokes with crushed ice?

"Nowhere," she said. "There's nowhere like Jeannie's."

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