Big Tree Inn to be sold to Geneseo businessman, partners | Top Story

Big Tree Inn to be sold to Geneseo businessman, partners | Top Story

GENESEO — The Big Tree Inn is expected to live on as a historic inn, restaurant and tavern, with local ownership.

The Campus Auxiliary Services Board at SUNY Geneseo announced Friday afternoon that it had voted unanimously to proceed with a sale of the Big Tree Inn, 46 Main St., to Joseph Bucci Sr., a 1967 graduate of the college, and his partners, Jeff Brown, Dr. Lauren Wadsworth, Piper Wadsworth, and Jacob Caplan.

The closing of the sale is expected to be completed this summer. A sale price was not announced.

The anticipated new owners plan to resume operation of the historic inn as a restaurant and tavern, with lodging in the future, according to the announcement.

“It’s a beautiful building, and I am glad to be able to do something for the community by helping to preserve the Big Tree Inn,” Bucci said in a statement.

Bucci is the founder and CEO of American Rock Salt. He has also served on the Geneseo Foundation Board and along with his wife, Elaine, a 1966 graduate of SUNY Geneseo, have been active alumni.

Mat Felthousen, executive director of CAS, said Bucci and his partners submitted “a strong proposal that demonstrated the group’s collective history and knowledge of the village.”

“We are excited about the partnership opportunities that new ownership of the Big Tree will bring to the college, the community and other Main Street business,” Felthousen said.

The Big Tree Inn went on the market Feb. 18 with an initial asking price of $1.1 million.

Prospective buyers were asked to complete a sealed bid as part of the process. The deadline for submitting bids was March 21. The bids were then reviewed with a goal of settling on a buyer by mid-April.

SUNY Geneseo worked with CAS on establishing criteria as part of the bidding process for the sale of the property. An evaluation committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members reviewed the proposals, Felthousen said in a March 1 email to The Livingston County News.

Felthousen, in Friday’s announcement, thanked the review committee for its time and diligence in the selection process.

Campus Auxiliary Services, a non-profit that runs SUNY Geneseo’s dining facilities and other services, has owned the building since 1998. CAS also provides catering, laundry, vending, identification, refuse and recycling, and fiscal agent services for campus organizations.

The sale will allow CAS to focus on its core mission of supporting the college and for members of the Geneseo community to build upon the long legacy of a historic property, Felthousen said.

The Big Tree Inn has been closed since December 2020 following a temporary closure that had begun in August 2020 with the suspension of restaurant and tavern operations due to COVID. Though hotel and events continued for a time, those were later stopped and the entire operation shut down due to ongoing strains on the hospitality industry.

In October 2021, CAS announced its intent to sell the property, citing pandemic and other fiscal challenges. Some of the fiscal challenges went back more than a decade and under different management teams, according to an email sent to Felthousen at the time to college staff.

The Big Tree Inn has been a landmark on Geneseo’s Main Street for more than 130 years. The property began as the residence of Allen Ayrault and his wife, Bethia, and their two daughters, in 1833. They property was called “The Big Tree Lodge.”

The Ayraults were prominent and influential citizens of Geneseo, with Mr. Ayrault president of Livingston County Bank and credited with making Geneseo the county’s center for commerce. After his death in 1861, Mrs. Ayrault continued to live there until her death at age 93 in 1885, according to a history of the property compiled by the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo.

The property was purchased by James W. Wadsworth, who enlarged the building with a two-story brick addition to the north. He opened the property as a hotel in 1886, with William Nash as proprietor, who bought the building that same year.

The third story for sleeping quarters was added in 1895, and a wide stoop was built across the front in 1896, according to the APOG history.

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