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Concept image depicting Mel's Tearoom sign at Dorchester Jail Airbnb (Courtesy Bill Steele)

Dorchester Jail Owner Saves Mel’s Tearoom Sign

By Sam Macdonald Oct 20, 2022 | 6:08 PM

The owner of the Dorchester Jail Airbnb is preserving the legacy of one of Sackville’s oldest businesses.

Bill Steele, owner of the converted historical jail located in Dorchester, bought the iconic neon sign for Mel’s Tearoom, as well as a small collection of memorabilia from the shop, last week in a bid to preserve a piece of Sackville history.

“I was hoping that someone would have stepped up and bought the business, but they didn’t,” said Steele. “I inquired and I said ‘listen, I’m very interested in saving that sign.’ And we made a deal.”

One condition of the sale was that Steele put the sign on display at his Airbnb and not sell it.

“The ideal thing would have been for Mel’s to stay there and remain open – that didn’t happen,” said Steele. “It’s a very valuable sign; a classic neon sign from the 1940s is very sought-after by collectors. That could have easily headed to the States or to some big collectors, never to be seen again, indoors in a house, somewhere. I’m glad I’m saving it.”

In addition to the iconic sign, Steele purchased several stools, tables, and some dishware from Mel’s. While Steele was mum on what he spent on the memorabilia, he did tell Huddle the purchase was in the thousands of dollars.

After closing the café last February, and following the purchase of the building they were renting at 17 Bridge Street, Mel’s Tearoom owners Wendy and Dave Epworth put it up for sale, After months of waiting with no bites, the husband-wife duo decided to permanently close Mel’s at the end of September.

The Epworths have been owners of the café, which has been open since 1945, since they bought it in 2018.

Steele, a former Torontonian, has owned the Dorchester Jail since 2017. The converted 19th-century provincial jail saw its popularity explode in 2021 after it was featured in the Love for Local – New Brunswick Electric Summer Social Tour.

Steele told Huddle the biggest challenge for him, now that he owns the sign, is getting it to his property in Dorchester.

“I’m going to need a company to come and take it off the building and transport it properly and then re-mount it on the side of the building. We’re just waiting for a quote at this point,” he said.

“It’s over a storey tall. If you look up, it takes up the whole height of the second storey of the building.”

Luckily, Steele has just the place to put it when it does arrive at the Dorchester Jail.

Steele plans to install the sign near the entrance of the converted jail. It’s a conspicuous location in the middle of the community, just down the street from the Village Square Take-out, a restaurant that’s currently up for sale.

“I’m glad I’m putting it outside so everybody can continue to see it,” he said.

While the sign will be a new feature on the village skyline, Steele is putting the rest of the Mel’s memorabilia on display indoors.

“It’ll be a place setting with a little placemat, some small receipts, tickets, and ice cream cup covers and stuff like that,” he explained. “There was just some old stuff in that basement that I grabbed – and I love that kind of stuff. I love preserving history.”

In addition to the Mel’s memorabilia, Steele has collected items from the former Masonic Hall, and the site of the former Radio Canada International/CBC property near Aulac on the Tantramar Marsh.

Steele told Huddle business at the jail has been brisk all summer, with bookings up 100-per-cent since last year.

“We were booked solid or a month and a half in the summer, it was crazy. We still have weekends with parties booked,” he said.

“We had such a successful year.”

Sam Macdonald is a Moncton-based reporter for Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting partner. Send him your feedback and story ideas: macdonalds@huddle.today.


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