When The Mill announced its closure two months ago, the Iowa City community that the restaurant and music venue had served for nearly 60 years (48 at its current Burlington Street location) was aghast. Everyone knew that there would be institutional casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, but “it couldn’t happen here” seemed like the prevailing sentiment. However, “I think if we reflect on how we’ve spent our time and our money in the last year (prior to the plague), I think we’d have seen clearly,” Chris Wiersma wrote in a hybrid eulogy/j’accuse letter to the editor.
In the weeks that followed news of The Mill’s second demise (it had closed for nearly a month in 2003 before being taken over by its current owners, perhaps part of why the community was so sure it would pull through this time), multiple efforts arose to save it. One group, the Refounders of The Mill, developed a plan to purchase the business assets — name, business model, signature recipes — and reopen at a different location. Another, Save The Mill, a Living Landmark, immediately began working toward having the building itself preserved as a historic landmark.
But alongside those community efforts, the owners were simply still trying to sell. Offers were made but they were rejected, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, and the owners need to have the building clear by the end of the month. Today a wide variety of The Mill’s fixtures and equipment have been listed for auction by Backes Auctioneers and Realty, a company based out of Raymond, Iowa. The items will be on view at the site from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 23 in advance of an online auction starting Aug. 24 at 10 a.m.
Among the items listed are the worn and familiar benches and tables, stools and chairs, drinkware and a wide variety of commercial kitchen equipment. However, Little Village‘s sources say that some of the more historic items are being held back and preserved, and “The Mill” as a local brand could potentially be revived — either in the same place or at another location — and remains for sale.
The Mill has served as an anchor venue for Iowa City live music, literary and political events. It has seen myriad local, national and international artists grace its stage. It is the home stage for the Run of the Mill Theatre Company and has served the community steadfastly for decades with weekly open mics, low cost facilities rentals and countless fundraisers for nonprofit organizations.