Life is truly a journey of experiences, a great portion of which we are asleep. For those of us in which travel is a vital element of our career, where we choose to sleep can become a part of that adventure. I have slept in a former train car in California’s wine country, a former monastery on the hillsides of Tuscany, and a former church in Glasgow, Scotland, to name only a few inns of interest.-- Each producing an unique entry in my book of memories.
Recently, I added another chapter. On a business trip to Amelia Island, Florida, I came across the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn. This remarkable hostelry began its life in 1886 as “Old Schoolhouse 1”. The four room school was meant to contain the growing number of children on the island. Within 30 years, continued growth led to an addition and a few years later, an entirely new school was built elsewhere. Subsequently, the vacated building served home to an array of tenants, including the Masons.
In time, the building began showing its age and its longevity was questioned. ---That is, until a rising entrepreneur of the hostelry industry took note. Instead of taking the building at face value, he saw great potential for its renaissance. Its new life would be that of an upscale, boutique inn. An inn with a story. An inn to be enjoyed by all.
That clever soul is Spence Romine.
It was late on a Saturday afternoon when I had completed my nearly 9 hours of driving. Needless-to-say, I was not very bright-eyed or exuberant at that time. However, it all seemed to change when I stepped through the old (original) double wood doors of the schoolhouse. Immediately, I heard my first name called out by the lovely lady behind the front desk. No, it wasn’t the truant officer or principal…. It was Amanda, the manager. Her pleasant smile and sincere nature were priceless. Instantly, I knew I had made the correct selection for the night’s accommodations.
As an addict of detail, my eyes raced about the lobby and the adjacent “Principal’s Office” (bar). Sight of the original wide stairs ignited flashbacks of running up a similar set for my own early education. ----Memories seemed to flood my mind: Tall (15’) ceilings, tall windows, brick walls, dark hardwood floors, and those pendant lights! I expected Principal Wilson to round the corner at any moment…..
There was a feeling of modern conveniences and amenities, yet you were wrapped in the familiarity of nostalgia. The Arts and Crafts movement of design was vogue (1880-1930) when this building was built. The hotel’s designer paid homage to this very important detail through furniture, art, and fabric selections. Yet, it wasn’t like you were in a time warp. Instead, her keen eye and skills kept the space fresh. It would have been easy to go down the route of cutesy-kitsch, but she wisely chose not.
The bed slept well. No noise. No squeaky floors. The bathroom and personal amenities were all luxury level. Nice. Very nice.
Breakfast was a hoot! I sat in a slat-back wooden chair innate to the era peering at a row of framed photos, each holding the image of a US President. They crowned the blackboard which had a listing of “extra credit” objectives. The continental breakfast was fresh. Satisfying.
I have great respect for those who see value in aging buildings. I wanted to know more. Curiosity led me to have a discussion with Spence. I am glad that I did.
“This is our 7th venture,” exclaimed Spence. In a very short period of 7 years, he and his wife have purchased, restored, remodeled, and resurrected 6 other hotels. This was their first adventure into re-purposing a building. His eyes seemed to glimmer with pride as he shared their journey. ----And rightfully so, as each purchase and subsequent sale has been met with success!
Has Lady Luck been on their side? One might think so, but a further discussion of the hours of research spent before/during/after a purchase proved otherwise. Calls to the local tourism bureau, office of records, and general state of the area’s economy are all fundamental to the process.
For this particular renovation, all of the bricks were re-pointed for stability. All the wooden floors were removed, sanded, and refinished. The sight of them produced a feeling of “welcome” that only reclaimed wood can offer. The original windows were also saved. I am amazed it took only 17 months to do all of this.
The inquisitive soul that I am, asked Spence what is the biggest satisfaction he receives from his efforts. “We value our customers’ happiness,” beamed Spence. “That is where the real gold lies. That is the very best marketing one could ever hope for in today’s world of social media.”--- I believe he is a very wise businessman.
I continued to inquire: “If you could share one tidbit of knowledge you have found to be the most valuable from the experiences you have gained, what would it be?”
“Be kind. Be kind to your customers, your staff, and your wife,” radiated Spence.--- In today’s marketplace, that was the most refreshing and relevant statement that I have heard.