Sunrise Diner may be moving to Vermont
Back in my early diner travels, I was on my way to Harrisburg, PA. It was November 27, 1981 and I was traveling on Route 209 between I-84 (at the NY-PA state line) and I-81, north of Harrisburg.
I came down a long incline into Jim Thorpe, PA, (the town is located in a valley). As the road came down the hill, it arced right and came to an intersection at the center of town. Rte. 209 made an immediate right and then a left here.
Sitting at the traffic light, waiting to take the right turn I, looked straight down the short street ahead of me and noticed peeking out from behind the building at the corner was a small “arrow” shaped sign with neon stating “Sunrise Diner”. As this little street was a one way coming at me, I followed Rte. 209 right and left and looked to my left and saw the diner.
I of course stopped and photographed it and probably went inside for a coffee. This was the first of many drives through the town and I know I photographed the diner quite a few times as well over the next few years.
A few months ago (before I started this blog) it was reported that the Sunrise Diner, a 1949 vintage Jerry O’Mahony built diner was closed. The new owners of the property have a different type of restaurant (if I remember correctly) in an adjacent building and wanted the diners lot for expansion and they put the diner up for sale at that time.
It was reported in the Times Argus newspaper out of Vermont on Thursday that Jeff Jacobs of Montpelier Property Management now has plans to purchase the Sunrise Diner and move it to a vacant lot in Vermont’s Capitol City. The report stated there are some problems that Jacobs has to get past before getting the approval to bring the diner to town, but he seems determined to see it through.
Here is the text of the article….
A 1949 diner for Montpelier?
The wheels are in motion, despite major roadblock
By Patrick Timothy Mullikin Business Correspondent
It’s been a bumpy ride so far for Jeff Jacobs and his
efforts to wheel a classic 1949 diner car into
Bumpy, but still on course.
If all goes right, and it’s a big if at this point,
says Kevin Casey of the Jacobs-owned Montpelier
Property Management, a vintage diner could be up and
running this fall, just a bottle-cap’s throw from
“We’re trying to bring a piece of Americana and to add
a little character to downtown. Stuff like this just
isn’t done anymore, says Casey. “The nice thing is
that we’re getting a lot of positive feedback from the
community, and that is definitely helpful.”
In addition to community support, Jacobs has several
things going for him:
He picked an ideal location: 66 Main Street, a lot he
owns and that has been vacant since the structure that
was once home to Play It Again Sam burned in May 2003.
“It’s really funny because when I was in Montpelier
last year,” says diner guru Randy Garbin, who
publishes Roadside, an online publication about diners
and diner culture, “I remember walking past that lot
going, ‘This would be a perfect spot for a diner,
never thinking in a million years that one would
actually be there.'”
Jacobs has the unit picked out already: The former
Sunset Diner (sic), a vintage 1949 diner car now
sitting empty in Jim Thorpe, Pa. “It’s in really good
condition, a really a beautiful unit,” says Garbin.
“It’s very colorful and a really nice well-preserved
Jacobs has at least four individuals interested in
leasing the diner from him and running it: “We have
people who have the resources and have expressed an
interest in running it,” says Casey.
But Jacobs also has a big problem.
The site, an empty lot framed with concrete blocks and
that last year became a prime gathering spot for
panhandlers, is below the base flood elevation.
Under Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood
Plain Insurance Program, a new building in a flood
plain must be raised above base flood elevation.
Forget that this is a 1949 structure. Once it is
removed from its Pennsylvania site, trucked to
Montpelier and placed on a foundation, it is
considered a new structure.
“The elevation of the site is 526 feet (above sea
level), and it has to be at least 530 feet to be above
the base floor elevation,” says Clancy DeSmet,
Montpelier’s new planning and zoning administrator.
“(The project) can continue, but they just can’t get
flood insurance. He could do it, but he couldn’t get a
tenant to take over a business that wouldn’t have
There’s more at risk than tenants, however, as Casey
found out when he met with Environmental Analyst
Rebecca Pfeiffer of the state’s Flood Plain Management
FEMA is one tough customer. Should Jacobs continue
with his project and not raise the structure by the
necessary four feet, the city could lose its low NFIP
insurance rates. Worse yet, Montpelier could lose
federal disaster assistance funds should Montpelier
Jacobs, says Casey, has two options at this point if
he wants to continue with his diner idea: Survey the
spot, at his expense, and hope that it is actually
higher than 526 feet, or elevate the diner by four
An elevated diner raises aesthetic – and monetary –
“When you raise it up four feet, it looks out of
place,” Casey says. Garbin agrees: “They are not meant
to be up that high. When you consider the average
height of a person is about 5-8, your head is going to
be where the bottom of the door is. It’s more common
for a diner to be two to two-and- a-half feet high.”
But in FEMA’s and the city’s eyes, it’s a diner four
feet off the ground or no diner at all.
Casey and Jacobs understand the city’s position. “The
planning department has been great. There’s a lot of
excitement over there about it. They like the idea.
It’s just that everybody’s hands are tied,” says
Although an elevated diner with its additional
constriction costs is not what Jacobs had envisioned
when he began the diner project, it has not meant the
end of the project.
“I could envision it could look cool,” says Casey,
“but it’s just whether or not it would be cost
What Casey envisions is a handicap-accessible platform
that is the size of the lot — essentially a deck with
outdoor seating during the summer.
DeSmet hopes Jacobs will pursue other design options
and that the diner project will continue through the
city’s design review process.
“They agreed to table the project (rather than shelve
it) and talk to an engineer and architect.
Theoretically, the project can work; it’s very doable.
It would be a shame if they go this far and didn’t try
to come up with some creative solutions.”
DeSmet says the city has offered Jacobs a few of its
own solutions, including creative landscaping and
extending the diner’s stainless steel siding to hide
the elevated foundation wall. “We were just trying to
help Montpelier Property come up with different ways
to look at it so that it could happen,” he says.
Whether it’s a diner, a parking or lot or a building,
Montpelier City Council member Jim Sheridan hopes
something happens to the 66 Main St. parcel.
“I don’t know if I really care what goes there as long
as we can get something to at least clean it up so
that it doesn’t become just blocks that people sit on
and beg for money.”
Sheridan says he has no strong feelings one way or
another about a diner but that it would be bringing
back a little nostalgic past.
Walgreens to displace the Vale-Rio Diner
The Vale-Rio Diner of Phoenixville, PA was closed late in February. The current owners brothers Richard and Francis Puleo, and John O’Sullivan decided that even though the diner’s business was doing okay, they thought that there was more money to be made by selling the lot where the diner, a beautiful stainless-steel Paramount model had been located for over 60 years, along with the adjacent property so a brand-new Walgreens as well as a Starbucks Coffee house could be built instead.
The diner was to be moved down the street to some land Puleo also owns. He was quoted that he would like to reopen the diner there or somewhere else close by. To paraphrase Randy Garbin of RoadsideOnline, don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen. Chalk one up for greedy land owners and Walgreens!