No one would have imagined that when Ray and I were married in 1971 that in 1996 we would become Innkeepers, least of all us! We have now completed our 22th year of ownership of The Old Harbor Inn and are beginning our 23th season!!!!
Our adventure truly began April of 1996. Ray was working for Mattel Toys as the Eastern Regional Sales Manager of the Drug Store and Supermarket Division and I was a billing and customer service supervisor for Pharmacy Corporation of America. We were away on a Mattel trip visiting the Grand Cayman’s when Ray started talking about needing to leave Mattel. He managed food brokers, drove about 40,000 miles a year, flew around 70,000 and worked a 90 hour week. He needed a break.
When our son and daughter were approximately 10 and 14, we attended a seminar sponsored by the Wall Street Journal – “So you want to be an Innkeeper”. The Inn we stayed at was the Jamaica Inn in Jamaica, VT. We visited several other Inns whose names escape me but from those Inn’s learned some lessons that made us not eager at the time in our life to pursue an Innkeepers life style.
One inn was way up in VT almost in Canada. They spent 25% of their advertising dollars just to get people to their property…so we learned buy in a destination. Another inn was located in a picturesque area with a brook that ran near the property with a lovely little bridge that crossed the brook. These folks literally sold all their personal items to buy the inn. On the weekend they opened, there was a 100 years flood that washed out the lovely little bridge and their guests could not get to them. Their advice to all the attendees was not to quit your day job. Lastly, our hosts at the Jamaica Inn moved with teenaged kids from mid-town Manhattan, population lots, to Jamaica, VT 650 year round residence. The kids revolted and ran away…so we learned that for us, it would be a mistake to do this with young children.
Fast forward to the beginning April 1996. Ray saw a small ad in the Boston Globe that advertised a 9 room bed and breakfast, turn key in Chatham, MA. He called the realtor and asked for information. Let me tell you, the property was beautiful to us and we couldn’t figure out why someone would want to leave this beautiful place. When Ray asked if I wanted to go look at it the property, I said no. I remember throwing the inn information into the recycle bin. On second thought, we did want to show the kids. It was our son Ed who encouraged us to “go for it”. He told us that where we were was his and his sister’s home. With that, we made an appointment to see the property. Ray spent the evening figuring out all the finances and we came back the next day and made an offer. In 6 weeks, were bought and moved into the inn.
I have to say that I came to The Old Harbor Inn “kicking and screaming”. Not really, but since change is very hard for me, it took some getting used to. We lived in Brockton, MA almost 25 years. The first summer was certainly a trial. Ray was still working so I had to learn how to do lots on my own with the help of a wonderful young woman named Kristen Zeiss. Kristen worked part-time at the inn while attending college. She became full time shortly before we bought the Inn and lucky for us she decided to stay a couple of years!
When we moved here our daughter Katie was a sophomore at Bridgewater State College (now University). She was just 19 and she worked for us for a couple of summers. In the beginning, Katie , and I quote “hated this place”. We moved her away from college, home and friends. Katie and her wife Claire live in Brockton and now want in the worst way to now live on the Cape.
Although Ray and I were both born in MA and even though Chatham, which is on Cape Cod, MA, we will never be considered natives. There are 3 types of citizens on Cape Cod, natives, visitors and wash-a-shores (us). And we are fine with that.
Over the past 20 years, many of the processes we have learned have either come from other innkeepers or trial and error. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. For the record, taking left hand turns in the busy summer season is not impossible but very tricky. Every time I smell the ocean, hear the surf (which you can do from our Inn) or just experience the moon reflecting off of the water at South Beach, I am reminded how lucky we have been to live on this beautiful peninsula called Cape Cod and more importantly this lovely little elbow called Chatham, MA for the past 22 years.