- Editor's note: This is the first of a multipart summer series by Tara Knott and Garrett Lance looking at the iconic Geneva buildings for sale and what they mean for Geneva's long-term development. See the series intro .
In September 2010, a small group of citizens gathered to discuss the of downtown Geneva.
They voted on the best way to address parking concerns and what businesses the area was lacking. When asked to pick downtown Geneva’s greatest assets, they chose character, attractiveness and historic buildings.
Just a few months later, a Geneva icon with all three attributes would close its doors.
As of this week, it's still for sale with no purchase offers on the table.
The property has an asking price of $2.2 million, according to realty group Jameson Commerical’s website.
Multiple attempts to contact the company were not returned, so it’s not known whether there have been any potential buyers yet. The 15,000-square-foot building sits on just more than one acre of land on the banks of the Fox River, making it a picturesque but potentially risky investment.
The river damaged the Mill Race Inn twice during the years, and several years ago, the damage from the second flood was so severe that owner Charlie Roumeliotis had to shut down the restaurant’s lower-level Mill Grill permanently—the last straw for the iconic restaurant, which was already struggling with the economic downturn.
Fond Memories of a Great Restaurant
The Mill Race Inn served its last Sunday dinner on Jan. 23. Even the employees didn't see it coming. Roumeliotis told he waited to tell them until the Thursday before “because I still was hoping … that I could think of something.”
The news was a shock to many Genevans, including Laura Rush, communications manager for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce.
“If something as long-standing as the Mill Race can close, then it can happen to any of the businesses,” Rush said. “When you are traveling to Geneva from the east and you see that beautiful building for sale, it isn’t necessarily the message you want to deliver as a first impression.”
At one time, anybody walking along the Fox River could see families enjoying a summer afternoon in The Gazebo or friends admiring the view from the full-length windows in the Mallards Room. Now, “No Trespassing” signs are posted at the entrance and on the old wooden doors, a far cry from the welcoming atmosphere so many Genevans remember.
“If you showed up alone, you were sure to find someone to throw darts with, shoot pool or play a game of checkers,” Rush said.
Walking through the doors of the inn was a throwback to a simpler time—a time when iPhones and text messages weren’t around to interrupt a sparkling conversation, and you could take just as long as you pleased to enjoy a hearty meal.
More than anything, the Mill Race Inn was a place to create memories. Rush remembers sharing dinner there with her grandmother and husband before their wedding, listening to marriage advice and savoring the warm breadsticks.
Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Center, remembers taking the stale breadsticks from the crocks outside the inn’s doors and feeding the ducks with her young daughters.
Both Rush and Emma said they won’t forget those special evenings any time soon, and it’s difficult to imagine another business filling the Mill Race Inn’s sizeable gap in the Geneva economy.
The Good News: This Restaurant Is a Survivor
Financial hardship has been part of the restaurant’s history since its founding during the worst economic conditions this country has ever seen. Just a few years into the Great Depression, two sisters from Aurora transformed an old blacksmith shop into a summertime tearoom and christened it the Mill Race Inn.
A millrace is a current that flows over a mill wheel, turning it to provide the power to keep the machinery moving. For nearly eight decades, the Mill Race Inn kept Geneva’s shopping and dining community flourishing.
Without it, business in Geneva has continued its ebb and flow, but as you pass by the historic building, it’s hard not to feel like part of the town has been washed away. Only time will tell who the property's next tenant will be—and if the new owner will be able to carry on its legacy.