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At Mom's Schoolhouse Diner, business plan is to create community

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Continuing our occasional series on North Country entrepreneurs, we talk with Sharon Bastille, better known around her West Potsdam stomping ground as "Mom." Bastille and her husband, who's a carpenter, own Mom's Schoolhouse Diner, which is located in a former one-room schoolhouse. Mom's is a '50s diner, where the staff wears red and white checked circle skirts under their aprons.

Bastille has had Mom's for about a decade, after a couple decades spent at home with her kids. She tries to make the diner as much like home as possible by knowing customers' names, likes and dislikes, for example. Though Mom's is a business, Bastille doesn't think of herself as a businesswoman. She told Nora Flaherty she doesn't make a living from the diner. But as long as it breaks even, her priority is creating a nice place for people in the community to come together.

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Nora Flaherty
Digital Editor, News

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“My children were grown and they actually said to me, ‘Mom, you have to get a life.’ And that became the diner,” said Bastille, who is known as Mom. “I wanted to recreate the atmosphere and the nostalgia, not just pictures of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe on the wall. What I wanted to do was think, what would it have been like if you’d walked into a diner or a place to eat at that time?”

Mom’s second goal in opening the diner was to bring the community back together. “A lot of people were disconnected, and though they’ve been neighbors for years, hadn’t seen each each other for years and now they’ve reconnected here and I feel very blessed to be a part of that,” said Mom. When she started the business nine years ago, her goals extended beyond turning a profit. She wanted to be known for three things: the best burgers, the best pies and the best fraps. “It didn’t make me money. We don’t really see a profit financially, but it does pay its bills,” said Mom.

Mom lives right outside the diner in a camper, which she moved into after her children moved away. When the expense of living in a large home was joined by debt from starting the diner, Mom decided to make the move. “When I came to the place, maybe like five, or five to six years ago, realizing how far in debt I was, that I didn’t like going out in the public because I didn’t want to run into someone I owed money to, I finally had to take a look at it,” said Mom. “One of the options, of course, was closing, selling it and selling everything I had and paying everybody off  and I wasn’t quite ready for that.”

The other options were moving into a smaller place or getting a camper. Mom said that she discovered two things from living in a camper, “You don’t need much to be content and happy in this world, and two: a relationship can make it in cramped quarters.”

Looking forward to the next few years, Mom has had to face the fact that she doesn’t recover from her 14 or 15 hour days like she used to. “So that’s when we decided that, you know, maybe it’s time to put the schoolhouse up for sale. Am I ready? No. Because I love what I do and I’m not ready to sell it. But it is on the market in case somebody else wants it. I’d love to, of course, see it continue as Mom’s Schoolhouse with the same goals, but someone else might not have those goals.”

If it doesn’t sell, Mom said that she will make a decision about what to do later. Her children and 11 grandchildren live far away, and she would like to spend more time with them. “And so yes, we’ve put it on the market, but I’m not in a hurry to sell. I tell people, sometimes I forget that it’s for sale!” concluded Mom. “Growing up, my husband and I, as it turned out, both of our favorite heroes we looked up to was Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. So you’ll notice that there’s Roy Rogers and Dale Evans nostalgia around over the doorway when you leave you’ll see a sign that says ‘Happy Trails to You,’ and that’s how I would like to end it.”

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