WATERVILLE — A Sidney couple is working to transform the former John Martin’s Manor on College Avenue into a steakhouse, banquet facility, full-service bridal business, children’s boutique and consignment shop for high-end furniture, clothing, jewelry and other items.

JR and Erika Russell, both associate real estate brokers who also own Divine Consigns on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland, plan to hold an outdoor flea market on Sundays at the College Avenue business as well.

Their goal is to open The Country Manor later this spring and employ 20 to 25 people at the landmark College Avenue building.

“When we do something, we do it 110 percent; and anyone who knows us knows we do it all,” Erika Russell said recently at the building. “I don’t fail. I refuse to fail.”

John Martin’s Manor closed in 2007 after a 30-year run. It had been owned by Peter Martin, who grew up in the business with his father, John, who opened it in 1977. The restaurant, which employed 70 people, seated 300 patrons for dining, 400 for banquets and 200 in the lounge. Peter Martin sold the restaurant to Autote Enterprises, of New Haven, Connecticut, which closed the restaurant in 2007 because it was losing money.

The manor continued as a banquet center, catering special functions, and in 2010 Sportech bought Autotote. An off-track betting parlor in the basement continued to operate until 2012, when it moved to Jefferson Street.

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The Russells are leasing the 30,000-square-foot building from Patrick Casey, the most recent owner who already has renovated the atrium on the south side of the building, redone offices, floors and ceilings, fixed the roof, installed a new heating system with natural gas, and is re-doing the pillars on the College Avenue side of the building.

“I’m very excited,” Casey said of the Russells’ plans. “They’re go-getters.”

Leading a recent tour of the building, where the couple had a crew working, Erika Russell noted that new and used furniture will be in the first-floor space that formerly housed a buffet. She said Divine Consigns, the couple’s Oakland business that they plan to close in about two months, features new and used, upscale items from 500 consigners including local artisans and crafters, jewelry makers and others.

“Right now we have 300 prom gowns, new, with tags,” she said.

The renovated, sunny atrium on the south side of the Waterville building will display antique, vintage, new and modern dining and glassware items.

The building’s 275-seat banquet room on the first floor will be used for weddings, corporate functions, birthday and anniversary parties; and live bands will be featured. Lisa Rossignol, owner of Visions Flowers in Oakland, will do all the decorative functions for weddings and parties and will provide the flowers, linens and other necessities, according to Russell.

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“Our vision is to be a one-stop facility for a bride,” Erika Russell said. “I will have a cake vendor, flowers, limo, photography — all on site for the bride. We’ll be full-service.”

The kitchen will be cleaned and painted, and recently acquired equipment will be installed there, she said.

On the second floor, a large room will serve as bridal quarters where brides may meet with vendors. Next door to that room is a space set aside for a children’s boutique to offer upscale clothing. Offices and a multipurpose room for smaller functions also are on the second floor.

“We want to keep that dated feeling, but clean and new,” Erika said of the building’s decor.

On the first floor, vendors may rent shelf space by the month to display antique, vintage or new items, including jewelry.

The former off-track betting parlor in the basement will be a country steakhouse with tables, a bar and space for larger live bands.

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“Our menu is going to be amazing,” Erika Russell said. “You will not find it in central Maine. And our banquets will be able to accommodate any menu desired, in our facility. We have the dream team coming in — three chefs. We will announce that just before opening. Here’s a sneak peek at the signature item, the happy hour signature: free bacon — candied bacon, chocolate-dipped bacon, brandy bacon. Dad was a meat cutter for 20 years. We want to bring back the quality meats. Our 9-year-old designed the children’s menu and I think people are going to be in for a delight. She’s a foodie.”

The Russells plan to continue their real estate broker work with Century 21. Their children — Max, 16, Josie, 11, Dovelyn, 9, and Ashley, 21 — will help out at The Country Manor, as they do at the couple’s Oakland shop.

“Our kids have a huge, huge vested interest in our business,” Erika Russell said. “One of our claims to fame on Kennedy Memorial Drive is the fact that our kids work there when they’re not in school and on weekends, and our clientele love that.”

She said a lot of people have been asking if the restaurant will feature the popovers (light, hollow rolls) that were very popular at the former John Martin’s Manor for many years.

“There’ll be a surprise in store” is all she would reveal.

She said her father, Dan Savage, who is semi-retired from Century 21, also will be involved in the business.

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The couple said they had not planned to move and change, but their Oakland business had outgrown its space and they looked at the former John Martin’s Manor, thought about it and decided to dive in. The more they considered it, the more they became excited.

“The space just took over a life for itself,” Erika Russell said.

Her husband concurred. “It’s going to be nice to see The Manor going again,” he said. “It’s a Waterville landmark. It has employed a lot of families here through generations.”

The couple also has enjoyed a history in the building. They recalled announcing Erika’s pregnancy for their fourth child while dining there; and JR’s father, Joseph Russell, who died eight years ago, often insisted the family dine with him there. All signs pointed in the direction that the business was meant to be, according to the Russells.

“My third-grade teacher brought our class here and the day that I said, ‘Yes’ to the owner (Casey) that I wanted to rent this space, I got back to my shop in Oakland and she was at the store,” Erika Russell said. “And the people that have already come to us and said, ‘Oh, my Gosh, I want to work with you,’ are amazing. We will be the place to be.”

Erika Russell grew up in the store and restaurant business, as her parents owned stores in Oakland, including Dan’s Variety, and L.J.’s Restaurant, which now is the Early Bird Restaurant.

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The flea market on Sundays outside The County Manor will be a lot of fun, she said.

“I’m very much a picker and collector, and I want to give all of these people a space to sell their wares,” she said. “There will be local crafters and artisans, as well as food out there. It will be a daytime event. You can bring the whole family. There will be kids’ stuff and parking for 100.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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