Woodstock’s Little Bear seeks new location

MarLee Wang, owner of the Little Bear Restaurant in Woodstock. (Photos by Dion Ogust)

After nearly 50 years at the Bearsville Theater complex, now known as the Bearsville Center, the Little Bear Chinese restaurant will bid farewell.

“With much sadness in our hearts, we would like to inform our loyal customers as of September 30, 2021, The Little Bear restaurant will be closing its doors at the current location,” owner MarLee Koo and staff said in a written statement. “The landlord has decided to no longer allow this landmark restaurant to operate on the premises of the Bearsville Center — she has other ideas for the use of this building.”

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Koo said she is not retiring and plans to reopen in a new location “to serve you for many years to come.” She declined to comment any further and said through a friend that she is busy preparing for the closing.

A post on the Little Bear Facebook page said, “Dearest Patrons, The rumors are true. We are being forced out of our location at the Bearsville Complex.”

In a statement released Tuesday, September 21, Bearsville Center owner Lizzie Vann confirmed that the restaurant will no longer operate in its longtime location after September 30. 

“There has never been any discussion about raising the rent,” Vann said in the statement. “The Little Bear building had not been properly cared for, maintained, or deep cleaned on a regular basis for many many years. All the other buildings at Bearsville have had substantial work done since the change of ownership. But now we need to do the same with The Little Bear.”

She has heard negativity surrounding the closing. “We are seeing many comments about the closure of the Little Bear Restaurant, and are saddened by this. The actions that we are accused of are unkind, inaccurate and unfair to the team of people who have spent the last two years saving Bearsville from falling down.”

And Vann invited the community to a meeting to talk about the closing. “Yes, we are accountable to this community, and we recognize clearly that many of you are extremely upset and ‘want answers’ about the closing of The Little Bear,” she said. “So, we invite the local community at large to Bearsville to discuss this and any other issues you are concerned about. We would like to show you the work we have done and continue to do throughout Bearsville at 10 a.m. on October 1.”

Vann purchased the complex in August 2019. Many of the buildings suffered from severe water damage and neglect and have undergone extensive renovation under Vann’s ownership. The Petersen House on the complex is now home to Nancy’s Artisanal Creamery and Tinker Street Tavern. The Bear Cantina has replaced the Bear Cafe.

Vann, the founder of British baby food company Organic, has lived in Woodstock since 2013.

Koo had worked under Sha Wu, who had been brought in to run the Little Bear in its early days. When Sha Wu left, Sally Grossman, wife of complex founder Albert Grossman, asked Koo to take over the restaurant. 

 

There are 13 comments

  1. Jane

    To be replaced with yet another overpriced farm to table restaurant, same as all the others, attractive to those who don’t feel right if they aren’t overpaying.

    1. Bill H

      This is cynical and grossly inaccurate. There are so many restaurant choices in our area and almost all them are not “overpriced farm to table” (which I, and many others in our community, happened like, evidenced by their remarkable successes). Also, MarLee Koo plans to reopen her restaurant elsewhere.

    1. Bill H

      Boycott what? The new Cantina? The new restaurant that moves in after the Little Bear building is gut renovated? The historic Bearsville Theater. Nancy’s Ice Cream? Come on, what you are seeing is growth and development that is painful for some but very good for these local business owners and our whole community.

      Ms. Vann, I applaud you for planning an open meeting with our community, but you’d better brace for a bunch of misguided loudmouths that will show up just to yell incoherent invectives at you. They will undoubtedly drown out the many voices of overwhelming support and interest in your project. They love to show up to community meetings a flake out about anything new. A miserable bunch, but they do not represent the vast majority of us who love what you are doing.

      1. Julie H

        You’re very arrogant, and you don’t get to speak for everyone..and stop calling people names. Not everyone who disagrees with you are “a miserable bunch.” Pffffft!

        1. Bill H

          I’m sorry, but those yelling BOYCOTT should be called out for the ignorance. Boycott what? And I am mostly railing against those who show up to disrupt otherwise civilized meetings in this town. Have you been to one of these meetings? Please, show up to Lizzie Vann’s meeting, which she has initiated in order to communicate with fellow townspeople, and observe what I am talking about.

          I certainly do not speak for everyone, but I will speak.

          Also, you called me very arrogant and then told me to stop calling people names. Come on, now.

          1. Julie H

            If you hadn’t arrogantly labeled everyone who isn’t happy with this situation “a miserable bunch,” I wouldn’t have called you arrogant. Get over yourself.

          2. Bill H

            I am not criticizing, “everyone who isn’t happy with the situation.” I did react to Dennis PD’s all-caps “BOYCOTT” as I do think that sort statement represents the kind of people I am frustrated with in this town. I refer to a small group of people, and certainly not everyone, as you say.

            Again, boycott what? The hard working new owners of The Cantina? Nancy’s ice cream shop? The historic Bearsville Theater that has finally been saved from ruin? The new restaurant that ends up in the building about to renovated? What is the point of that? I feel that Dennis’s “BOYCOTT” borrows the style of protests for justice, but not the substance. Julie, feel free to attend Vann’s meeting and see or yourself.

            I think a better thing to do is recognize that Ms. Vann IS supporting our community will millions and has provided space for local businesses only. That’s a beautiful thing, and hardly something to boycott. Instead, why don’t we continue to follow Little Bear to its eventual new home and support it when it re-opens. And in the meantime not call for the death of other local businesses who are fortunate enough to have space in the Bearsville Complex.

  2. Lisa Mullenneaux

    “We are being forced out of our location at the Bearsville Complex.” Really?! It’s a miracle this poor excuse for Chinese food has lasted as long as it has. Vann deserves a huge vote of thanks from the community for renovating this complex of buildings and ensuring the that food served is of top quality. That’s why the Cantina is so popular. Thanks Lizzie!

  3. Will

    Very rare for any restaurant to stay open over 30 years. It has been a long- time favorite. Why not close down a month repair & re-open. Obviously it has quite a following.

    1. Joseph

      Well said. Although a month is optimistic. Close for the winter, renovate, and offer the original owners the chance to sign a new lease.

  4. Bill H

    The buildings in that complex were neglected for many, many years with decades of deferred maintenance that lead to some of the buildings being close to demolition. Fortunately Ms. Vann and her partners came along and invested millions to save them. The transformation has been astonishing to witness. The building Little Bear occupies has not been renovated, is a mess, and in desperate need of renovation and updating. Koo’s food is good, but the building – you have to admit – is gross. How lucky our community is that someone came along and invested an extraordinary amount of money in these historic buildings and it is ridiculous for neighbors to be upset about that. I am excited to see what comes next for the little building.

    Also, Vann owns the complex after spending millions to purchase and renovate with astonishing care. I really appreciate her and can’t wait to see what’s next.

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