Beth George’s two children, Chad and Lindsey, grew up in her back office at White Pines Resort.
They watched TV while their mother worked. They worked different jobs at the resort as they got older.
Those are among George’s favorite memories of her 31 years as concessionaire at White Pines Resort. On May 13, she announced on Facebook that she’d be filing for bankruptcy and closing due to COVID-19 impacts and the seasonal business not being able to open due to state mandates.
The Facebook post was shared nearly 8,000 times and commented on nearly 2,000 times.
“The outpouring of support was totally and utterly overwhelming,” George said. “I’ve been blown away. It’s been very heartfelt and I’ve been having a hard time even looking at them. Hundreds are from brides that were married there.”
George stopped counting weddings at 1,200 a few years ago. Her record for weddings in a year was 93. The resort was locally famous for those as well as its restaurant, dinner theater, cabins and gift shop.
George said she’ll be filing for bankruptcy in “a few weeks” after she can repay the brides and guests that have made deposits. A gift shop sale will be held May 18-20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to recoup some money.
“I don’t want the brides tied up in bankruptcy and all that,” George said. “The gift shop sale will hopefully give me everything I need to pay them back. The sale will be done in person with safety precautions like limited capacity, social distancing and masks.”
After Wednesday’s announcement, multiple GoFundMe pages emerged with hopes to save the resort. One has nearly $4,500 donated as of Thursday afternoon.
But George said the resort can’t be saved, regardless of any amount raised. She would only use that money to pay back brides and guests she owes.
“I wouldn’t ever want that responsibility on my shoulders,” George said. “I don’t ask for handouts. If the state goes bankrupt, the parks will close. There’s just so much uncertainty. It was unbelievable to see people try. I don’t even know them. It’s magical at White Pines and that’s why the outpouring has been like that.”
White Pines Resort employs 40-55 seasonal employees, all of which will now be out of work. She did apply for payroll protection through the federal CARES Act, but couldn’t use it due to not being open during the eight weeks it consisted of. All she ended up doing was incurring another loan.
Local municipalities like Oregon and Polo have helped their small businesses with applying for loans through state and local programs. White Pines Resort is located in unincorporated Ogle County.
George said she never talked to the county about assistance and said she doesn’t deal with them much due to being located inside a state park. She has $18,000-$20,000 in expenses per month, while closed. She did notify the state and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources of her situation before making her decision to close.
“We reached out to the state and said we won’t be able to be there if we can’t open by June 1,” George said. “But they said there was nothing they could do. They did defer our rent. Us telling them that wasn’t a threat.”
The IDNR did purchase assets of the business like beds and restaurant equipment, which will make a future concessionaire taking over more likely. The new person wouldn’t have to purchase expensive assets.
“They bought so much,” George said. “They’re only paying me dimes on the dollars of what I have, but it saves work for my staff moving and selling things.”
To become the next concessionaire, a person would have to apply to be on a bidders list for when the lease is eventually put out to bid by the state. George is unsure when that will happen, but believes it may be after the pandemic situation passes.
George nearly sold her lease to the resort last year. The family all but purchased it and decided after 10 weeks that it wasn’t for them.
“The financial impact of that was terrible for me,” George said. “It set me back a lot. I spent seven months training them.”
George has more fond memories than watching her kids grow up at White Pines. She built relationships. One couple planned to come and stay this year for their 50th consecutive year. She loved starting the dinner theater at a time when most people thought the resort only did breakfast.
“I don’t do drugs, but nothing got me higher than watching an audience die laughing at a performance,” George said.
“Everything ends. I almost sold it last year. I just never thought it’d end like this.”