Tearoom Returns, Minus the Segregation 

You're very Richmond if …

  • You've carefully folded and kept Miller & Rhoads shopping bags and refused to get rid of your M&R credit card, now 16 years expired.

  • You would pay $600 so you and a table of friends could once again taste tearoom delicacies such as the Missouri club and the chocolate silk pie.

  • You would gladly settle for being No. 251 on a waiting list for a $35 seat just to have the tiniest chance at getting to show everyone your Sara Sue hat.

    This is no joke.

    When members of the Library of Virginia Foundation decided to host a Miller & Rhoads Tea Room-themed luncheon for a fund-raiser, they expected success. They got "an incredible, overwhelming response," the foundation's Director Mary Beth McIntire says.

    Groups snatched up tables so quickly that by the time individual invitations went out, she says, "we were down to the last few tables." In all, 650 people total will attend two seatings at the May 13 luncheon at the Library of Virginia. More than 250 asked to be placed on a waiting list.

    The Miller & Rhoads Tea Room, for those unfamiliar with it, was not so much a restaurant as the city's cultural epicenter in the '50s. For decades, Richmonders would meet there for lunch and listen to tearoom maestro Eddie Weaver play the piano while models sashayed down a runway in the latest fashions.

    Unlike the original, pre-1961 Miller & Rhoads Tea Room, the foundation luncheon will not be racially segregated. Nor will the age of integration be glossed over, McIntire says; the aim is "telling everyone's history." Pat Young, one of the first African-American models to walk the tearoom runway, is one of seven original models who will reprise their role May 19.

    After the luncheon sold out, the Library of Virginia decided to commemorate the departed department store May 15-19.

    Exhibits will display such memorabilia as fashion sketches, menu covers, catalogs and, yes, shopping bags and credit cards. On May 17, a collection of Sara Sue hats will be shown at noon, followed by a book signing of Kristin Thrower's "Miller & Rhoads Legendary Santa Claus." On May 19, store models will gather at 1 p.m. for a discussion titled "Remembering the Runway." S

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