The Vale-Rio Diner, the Phoenixville landmark where regulars came for coffee, pie, and conversation for 60 years, has been put up for auction on eBay.
The "Val," as it was known, was posted online July 12 at an asking price of $250,000, co-owner Francis J. Puleo said Sunday.
Puleo said he and his brother Richard J. Puleo wrestled with what to do with the diner before reluctantly agreeing to the move last week.
"It was a very emotional decision," said Francis Puleo, who reported that he had already received a few nibbles from potential buyers.
The classic 1948 diner closed in February 2008 and was moved from its longtime spot at Nutt Road and Bridge Street to make way for a Walgreens drugstore and a Starbucks coffee shop.
The Puleos had hoped to reopen the diner on land they own in Phoenixville, but labored against objections from three neighbors and the failure of local planners to grant the required zoning variance.
The ad on eBay, with its global reach, makes it unlikely that some good Samaritan will buy the stainless-steel diner and reopen it with the old staff somewhere in the former steel town, Puleo realizes.
It's far more likely that a buyer will move the tarp-covered diner from its resting spot near Route 23, and make it into a novelty attraction elsewhere with more space. "Someone's going to have to double the [seating] expansion in order to make ends meet," Puleo said. "They could keep the facade."
The diner's former chef, Ali Ghouneimy, opened a diner of his own in the Acme shopping center on Starr Street near Route 23 in 2008. The Phoenix Diner & Family Restaurant was doing a brisk lunch trade on Sunday.
"We're really busy," said the hostess who answered the phone at 1 p.m.
With its pink roof and stainless-steel exterior, the Vale-Rio is believed to be one of a handful of examples of a Paramount diner still in existence. The Paramount has distinctive circles burnished into its exterior.
Inside, the Vale-Rio has baby-blue booths and a lunch counter and stools. The original clock is still on the wall behind the area where workers prepared meals.
Patrons enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and homemade pie. Elderly people without families took to having their meals there, and prom-goers would end their night by going to the Vale-Rio for burgers.
But Puleo said that from 2006 on, the diner "got caught in this economic web."
As the gritty steel-mill town in eastern Chester County became revitalized, land prices rose, making the 1.3 acres on which the diner sat more valuable than any business it could ever generate.
It served its last meal on Feb. 24, 2008, putting 44 employees out of work and leaving patrons without their familiar haunt.
"The diner did serve a purpose," Puleo said Sunday.
But to survive, the diner needed a site along a busy highway with lots of traffic and ample parking. The town leaders, neighbors, and the Puleo brothers could not agree on where that should be.
After spending $53,000 on plans to build a new two-story dining complex - with the Vale-Rio as centerpiece - on land they owned at Route 23 near Starr Street, the brothers finally decided to pull the plug.
"I talked to my attorney afterwards," Puleo said. "I said, 'We're up against it, and I don't know how to go any further.' That was two years ago, and the economy was just beginning to go downhill."
Puleo, a real estate broker, said that despite the woeful state of the economy, he does believe the diner has a future, but it won't be like its past.
"It will live on, as long as I take my time. If I like their idea, I might even adjust the price," Puleo said. "I think someone will come along and buy it."