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Farewell to Richardson's

January 11, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- It was a spot for Dual Highway cruisers to stop and a place for families to dine together after church.

As of Monday, though, Richardson's restaurant is no more, shuttered after 61 years.

At lunchtime Sunday, a somber Bill Turner, 69, recalled rolling up in his 1950s Chevrolets and asking for a hot dog, french fries and root beer, back when customers were served and ate in their cars.

Root beer was part of the restaurant's soul -- and the story behind its name, according to Don Jones, whose grandfather, Evan L. Jones, started the restaurant in 1948.

Don Jones said the local restaurant was a franchise of Richardson Corp. of Rochester, N.Y., which supplied the root beer's syrup.

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As people entered the restaurant in bunches on Sunday for a farewell meal, Jones had come from his current home in Michigan to be there.

His sister, Sonja Feiser of Funkstown, said she worked at the restaurant for 30 years before taking a job with Washington County Public Schools.

Monty R. Jones of Williamsport, Don Jones' nephew, said he remembered his family sitting at the same corner booth when they ate on Sundays after church.

The Joneses had a big group on the final day; they needed seating for 24.

Jim Resh bought Richardson's in 1976. It passed to his wife, Connie, then their children, Butch Resh, Bobby Resh and Vicki Martin.

Bobby Resh called the mood of the last two weeks "surrealistic."

So many people asked for mementos, he started keeping a list. By Sunday, that list was six pages long.

Ginny Carlson of Walkersville, Md., who was waiting to meet her brother and his family after church, said she was fond of a pelican statue near the door.

Resh didn't know how or if memorabilia would be distributed. In the meantime, the restaurant was selling prints of the building. On a sign-up sheet, buyers wrote "best wishes" and "love you guys" next to their names.

The Resh family wasn't looking to get rid of the business but had little choice when the stock market crashed, Bobby Resh said. Investments subsidized the restaurant's operations.

"This is a family," he said. "There's always emotion. But business is business."

A new enterprise might emerge in the future, although it's not yet clear what it will be, Resh said. It's even possible that, with the aid of an outside investor, the building could become a restaurant again.

Resh said he was worried what would happen to his staff of more than 30 people. He's been writing letters of recommendation for them.

"The cool thing is everybody stuck (with the business)," he said. "I thought I'd have everybody mad at me."

Instead, the mood ranged from wistful to mournful on Sunday. Diners loaded up at the buffet, choosing the chicken for which Don Jones said Richardson's was known.

"People would come for chicken and coleslaw," he said. "We sold root beer and coleslaw by the gallon. And our thick shake -- we had one of the first."

Turner fought back tears as he maneuvered his walker toward the exit for the last time.

"It's like you're burying somebody," he said.

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