The Boutique Hotel Trend Has Jumped the Shark

TIt’s official: the boutique hotel trend has jumped the shark.

We’ve been wondering  when this would happen but never expected that we’d hear the news from a David Brooks column in the The New York Times (nor did we ever think we’d laugh so hard at a Brooks column).  In “The Edamame Economy,” (1/6/14), Brooks announces the arrival of the “mass boutique,” heralded by Marriott’s boutique chain, Edition. (First edition? Limited edition? )

A boutique chain: now there’s an oxymoron.  And a shark-jump.  Food trends are a good example of the shark-jump phenomenon, whereby something is initially perceived as unique/exclusive and then, as its popularity spreads, takes a seemingly-inevitable downwards trajectory to end up, ingloriously, on a McDonald’s menu. Remember (this will reveal your age) when Caesar salads were considered gourmet, mixed tableside at fine restaurants?  When balsamic vinegar was special?  When salted caramel-whatever was a rarity?

But this applies to other mass commodities too, sold as “experiences,” whether sneakers, sodas…or hotels.  As David Brooks notes, the boutiqe hotel experience is all about difference and uniqueness, offering “edginess, art, emotion, and a dollop of pretension.”  Boutique hotel guests, Brooks says, attract travelers who identify as discerning and for whom the hotels “hold up a flattering mirror…they are supposed to feel like they are entering an edgy community of unconventional, discerning people like themselves.”  They want a “happening lobby scene” where they can bring their laptops and sit alongside other people with laptops or mobile devices.

But wait, there’s more: Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre boutique hotels in the Bay Area,  claims that his top hotels offer “identity refreshment” and brings to their guests “an awareness of self-actualization..

When we stopped laughing, we started to imagine a boutique-makeover at Towne Motel.  First order of business: to signal our new “brand” with a cooler, boutique-ish name.  How about T?  Or 68 Elm, like all those restaurants that use their street address in the name—another trend that may be about to jump the shark, if it hasn’t already.  Then room makeovers with mid-century modern furniture.  Breakfast room lighting: minimal, but you’ll be expected to wear sunglasses and bring mobile devices.  Very happening.  And—oh yeah–much more expensive.

What Brooks describes, of course, is the urban version of boutique hotels.  The boutique inns where we’ve stayed in Maine don’t have an edgy lobby scene, and the owners are friendly and welcoming.

But don’t worry, Towne Motel will not be jumping on the boutique wagon anytime soon.   Because we proudly offer the opposite:

–The most affordable lodging option in the village of Camden, with  bright, immaculately clean rooms, a homemade Continental breakfast, and a friendly and decidedly unpretetious vibe.

–Towne Motel’s “no sticker-shock” prices mean that our guests have money  left for fun stuff  like great meals and shopping sprees in Camden.

–Our guests don’t need Towne Motel to hold up a flattering mirror to them so that they can be re-affirmed in their edgy uniqueness.

So what  can we say? Boutique-schmootique! In fact, we think we have discovered a new lodging category.  Come visit us at Towne Motel, the Un-Boutique!

 

Amenity Upgrade: Introducing Towne Motel’s New In-Room Keurig Coffee Makers!

keurig

Here at Towne Motel, we’re pleased to introduce our first amenity upgrade: in-room Keurig coffee makers with Green Mountain coffee K-cups.

We love coffee.  Actually, we need coffee.  Siobhan should not be approached before her first cup in the morning.  Katja drinks it through the day and (European-style) has been known to enjoy a cup at midnight.  When our previous coffeemaker broke down forever, we ran out and bought a replacement the same day.  The morning after Hurricane Sandy blew through and took the power supply with her (we were at the Jersey Shore then) our first question was, how will we make coffee???  On Morning One we heated leftover brew on the gas grill, then discovered that our gas stove still worked (hooray!) and moved to a boiling-water + filter system.  Only later did we think of things like where we would buy more flashlights or how we would keep the house warm in late October-early November temperatures.

As travelers, not surprisingly, we’ve long been big fans of in-room coffee makers  Thus they were one of our  first planned improvements when we bought the Towne Motel in September.  We serve good coffee downstairs at breakfast (Northeast’s Coffeehouse Collection—very popular), but for some of our guests, this doesn’t solve the problem of:

a) we want to have our first cup of coffee in our jammies, in our room, before appearing in public, in clothes (though jammy-suited guests are always welcome at breakfast)

or

b) we want/need coffee at other times in the day!

We hear you.

And Keurig coffee makers were clearly the way to go. A recent blog post,“Why Are So Many Hotels So Cheap When It Comes to In-Room Coffee?” (Hotel Chatter, Oct 15, 2013) complains about the surprising number of hotels that still have cheap-o (we won’t mention a brand) coffee makers in their rooms.  Like the ones that make you use a paper filter and then give you a bad, weak cup of “coffee” for all your trouble.

If you’re going to do something, we figure, do it right.  So Towne Motel joins the ranks of many fine inns and hotel chains (like Hilton Garden Inns this fall) featuring in-room Keurig machines.  We chose—after much research by Katja–the very popular Green Mountain K-cups, and we boosted the to-go cups, too.   The new ones have the better, actually drinkable-from lid tops, not the kind you have to struggle to peel off and then burn your fingers on.

It’s our way to celebrate the New Year at Towne Motel, with a gift that will keep on giving!

Cats and Innkeeping in Camden, Maine

mat with cat

Ever since we started to think about buying an inn, we wondered how our cats would take to being innkeepers’ pets. What would be in it for them?

Well, for one, they’d have us home and around to cater to their every need (or so we imagined). And instead of rushing out in the morning and leaving them in 8-10 hours of silence, we’d have more stimulation and activity for them during the day. We used to come home after work, traffic, gym and errands ready to collapse, only to be reminded, first by our welcome mat, then by the now rested and restless cats, that “it’s about TIME we got home.” But they had to move quickly to get our full attention:  it didn’t take long (just un- and repacking, showering, microwaving various things – heat pads, hot toddies, tea, coffee, dinner) before we dissolved into hours of quiet again, dozing or grading or sleeping, the only signs of life coming from the Real Housewives of Bravo and whatever violent Showtime movie Siobhan fell asleep to. They had to squeeze in all their demands – to be let in and out, played with, petted and brushed, chased and fed and treated with Party Mix – into the few hours a day we weren’t prone or out of the house, doing whatever it was we did to put Fancy Feast into their bowls. They didn’t care what that was; they just concluded we can’t be very good hunters if it takes us ten hours a day to bring home one bag of Petsmart stuff a week.

 

Well, they still don’t care what we do to get food into their bowls. But they do care that they have to be a part of it now. What possesses us suddenly to be home all day (if home is the word for it), yet neither pay them sufficient attention nor let them sleep in peace? Why are strange people milling about our dining room in the morning? Why do other strange (if gradually more familiar) people come into the kitchen and drop off towels or talk about dirty rooms, guests, tips, and even their personal lives? Why do they vacuum and swiffer the kitchen? What’s up with all the unbearable door bells and phone calls? And worst of all, why do we walk past them and say things like, “hold on, I’ll be right with you,” or “Not now, Tibby, but I’ll lie down with you just as soon as I… turn on the lights in room 8 / take the banana bread out of the oven / call the plumber about room 2.”

 

It’s not that our owners quarters aren’t big enough – they’re not squeezed into a basement or two sunless rooms at the back of the inn, nor are they divvied up into odd portions that no cat, much less a human, could figure out how to live in. (And believe us, we’ve seen versions of all three during our inn search). And we didn’t have to rent or buy a separate house, either  – although the cats will probably soon want us to. Or maybe just a separate yard, a bigger and grassier one, with lots of birds and mice and bugs to kill, and a wooden deck to roll on.

 

The problem is that our house is semi public for part of the day (the breakfast rooms are behind the office, right between the kitchen and the living room), meaning it took a while for our two less anxious cats to make this dire situation work for them. (The third, very anxious cat, is still figuring it out). At first they were all stuck upstairs, hiding in closet corners, behind the long unpacked boxes, or under the bed – or sitting in window sills plotting escape. Eventually they realized that between 7 pm and 7 am, the coast was generally clear: as long as they made it back upstairs before the first breakfasters invaded, they could get in some outdoor birdwatching in the morning; and after 7 or 8 in the evening, the downstairs has gradually felt safer and become theirs. That’s the time for phantom mice hunts, closet  explorations, rug gymnastics, and the many other things cats do at night that we simply have no clue about.

 

But what about the 12 hours between the beginning of breakfast and the No Vacancy sign?

 

Well, we have three cats, and they all spend the day differently:

– anxious, IBS cat who would rather live his life outside, although not in this new, cold, not big enough yard, and who runs and hides at the sound of anything louder than a plastic bag or the sight of anything larger than his own body carried or picked up anywhere close to him

– high maintenance lover cat who has no patience for uninterrupted hours of human multitasking, and who holds grudges bigger than his twenty pounds of fur, especially when phones are answered during a cuddle session

– and quiet, sweet, well adjusted cat, whose one stress reliever is to claw carpeted staircases and litter box liners. (We don’t yet have any such staircases, but she did discover the one carpeted stair in the office, which, if left to her devices, would probably be bare by now).

 

Anxious cat still spends most of the day upstairs, arming himself only occasionally with extra layers of caution if boredom becomes too extreme and he has to venture into the kitchen or yard (other downstairs areas are too scary before evening). Attempts to pet him during such ventures are futile – trust is in short supply during the day, his little head still full of moving/ driving / being stuffed into a carrier trauma months ago.

 

Big lover cat has adopted a “whatever”attitude towards all these new people, and even occasionally hits them up for admiration and support (the more listening ears for complaints, the better). When lack of attention becomes too excessive, he sits demonstratively in the middle of a room or close to his filled food bowls, either looking up expectantly (if he is still willing to forgive), or with his back to you (if serious resentment has set in). He’s willing to accept new dry food in either case, but might eat with an air of “see what you made me do – turn to food when I really wanted love.”

 

Carpet clawing cat made a decision weeks ago to live her life around commotion and make it work for her, Buddha style (or similar). She just does her own thing, chasing birds in the yard or chattering at them from the warm cat tree inside. In the absence of carpeting on our main staircase, carpet cat is now limiting upstairs ventures to litter box trips. She is also wondering why she can’t, like she used to, have at least one litter box in the kitchen. In the meantime, she’s working on dismantling office carpeting and moving it into owners quarters, piece by piece if necessary.

 

In the off season, innkeepers tend to repairs, updates, and other investments.  New innkeepers with pets, or at least with picky pets like ours, probably have to make pet and guest projects equal priorities. Our first project got done quickly: a larger fenced outdoor  area, and a cat fence on top of the regular fence. Our next one will get done next week (knock on (literal) wood): carpeting the staircase and the upstairs landing. Yup, only 50% of this project is not cat related (noise,warmth, and nostalgia for some carpeting), but that’s ok – it’s about time they felt more like home. And further down the road, we envision some kind of spiral staircase from the bedroom window down to the backyard, so that at least anxious cat can avoid the breakfast crowds altogether and descend directly into the outdoors. But as far as grudging lover cat goes, material investments won’t do. As long as we fail to drop everything for a half hour brushing when demanded, he will sit reproachfully on the old rug in the kitchen, with the same look on his face as the cat on the mat…..telling us that even when we’re home, it might still be high TIME for us to get there.

From-Away in Maine

 From-Away in Maine - the way life should be

There are three kinds of people in Maine: tourists, natives, and those of us who have put down roots in Maine but are “from-away.”  If you are from-away in Maine it’s best to just fess up and “own” it.  If you claim Maine native status to a Maine native, well, get ready for a series of questions.  If your parents moved here when you were a month old, sorry.  According to the current (as far as we can tell) definition, native means you were born here.  It used to be more stringent than that.  Back in the 80s, when Siobhan’s mom and stepdad owned the High Tide Inn in Camden, native meant that your parents were born in Maine, too.  The saying went, “If your cat has kittens in the oven, that doesn’t make them biscuits.” (Followed by a big “Harumph!”)

But even though we are self-confessed, fresh-off-the-boat from-away inn owners (most recently from NJ, but before that, Nebraska, Nevada, California, Germany), we have been made to feel very welcome in Camden.  It’s a great community.  And these days, being from away doesn’t seem to carry the stigma it used to, probably because of the large influx, over the past 20-30 years, of non-natives who have fallen in love with Maine and moved here to live their dream life of small farming, or artisanal cheese-making…or inn-keeping.  Our contractor, Craig, says he heard that the from-away people now outnumber the natives by 2:1!

But there are moments when we do feel our from-away-ness.  We call them Driveway/Parking Lot  Moments.  We’re stealing this term from NPR.  In NPR’s Driveway Moments, you are so riveted to a story that when you arrive home, you sit idling in your driveway rather than miss the end.

Here at Towne Motel, we have two versions of Driveway Moments. In the first, we are helping guests with their luggage or waving goodbye. But it’s the second version that we’ve been experiencing more often lately, as the weather has gotten colder.  In Driveway Moment #2/Winter, we stand in the chilly parking lot with our plumber Casey, or our snow plough guy Bob, or another hardy (usually male) Mainer, and get into long-ish conversations about “systems” and “cascade effects,”…or where the giant piles of snow will go.  The guy in question is wearing a flannel shirt, we are wearing down jackets, and we are shivering.  This is where the native Maine guy begins to have some fun with the from-away girls.  A sadistic gleam comes into his eye, and he asks (barely suppressing a grin), “Ever been here in the winter?”  He’s pretty sure of the answer.

We’ve been trying to establish some cred by noting we used to live in Nebraska…this gets an eyebrow-raise of respect, but our guys are still having fun piling on the horror stories.  We’d like to note (as I told Casey) that on Monday, NJ got eleven inches of snow, and here in Camden we got like….two.

But time will tell…stay tuned for more winter adventures from Towne Motel!

We Love Our Mount Battie

Fitz Henry Lane, Camden Mountains from the South Entrance to the Harbor 1859

Fitz Henry Lane, Camden Mountains from the South Entrance to the Harbor 1859

mt. battieMt BattieMt Battie

During one of our first weeks here at Towne Motel, in the our front office Visitor book, we found this comment left by guests from Chicago: “We love our mountain!” We were touched by the connection our guests felt to Camden’s Mount Battie, but at the time we didn’t quite get the “mountain thing.”  We’ve always been water people–ocean, lakes, pools–thus our attraction to Mid-Coast Maine as we inn-shopped.  Thus, before we moved to Camden in September and became the owners of Towne Motel, we thought of Mount Battie asMt Battie kind of an “extra”–a bonus feature of Camden.

But Mount Battie has cast her spell on us, and now we love our mountain, too.  When Siobhan opens the front door for breakfast each morning, she pauses to look at Mt. Battie, which is different every day and throughout the day.  In October we watched her blaze with color. In the mornings she is sometimes shrouded with fog, then suddenly clear.  On Tuesday, she wore a mantel of snow for the first time.

Much as we love looking at Mount. Battie from below, it’s even better to experience her first-hand: hiking the trails in Camden State Park and breathing in that heavenly pine smell, or standing atop her summit, looking at a spectacular, not-to-be-missed (as we tell our guests) panorama of Penobscot Bay.

Mt BattieOn Thanksgiving night, the Christmas star was lit on Mount Battie’s tower, to shine over Camden every night until New Year’s.  And yesterday, for Katja’s birthday, we hiked up (from our front door!) to the tower and spent some time with our star.  Then we hiked back down and, when darkness fell, looked up to see her come alight again.  Magical.

 

 

 

 

Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend Special!

TM special post

When it comes to holidays, most people are in one of two camps: those who can’t wait for the shopping, feasting, and family to arrive; and those who can’t wait for January 2nd. This coming weekend, November 22-24, The Midcoast caters to both camps.

Come to Camden for a weekend of art and culture – to get into the holiday mood, or simply for a peaceful getaway before the craziness descends upon you! Stay with us that weekend and enjoy a deluxe pre- holiday continental breakfast with festive decorations. When you stay a second night, get 10% off both nights!

Three special artistic events await you:

“Live from Red Square,” an opera at the Camden Opera House Saturday 8 p.m.

“Le Corsaire,” a ballet captured live at the Bolshoi Ballet and transmitted from
Moscow to Maine – the love story of a young Greek girl, a slave trader, and a pirate!
At the Rockland Strand theater, Sunday 2 p.m.

The Fifth Annual ArtFullGifts arts and crafts show in Northport, featuring the
creations of 50 New England artists. Enjoy their talents and get a head start on
holiday shopping at the same time! At Point Lookout Resort, November 22-24

The Towne Motel is a five minute walk to the Camden Opera House, and a fifteen minute ride South to Rockland or North to Northport.

Check out these links for more info!

http://www.rocklandstrand.com/event/le-corsaire

http://www.camdenoperahouse.com/events.cfm

http://www.artfullgifts.com

 

It Takes A Village

The hand-off

This being November, we wanted to pause and give thanks to the many people who helped us get here.

Our journey to innkeeping sometimes felt like an odyssey, and took us down many unexpected paths. And as in the classic journey story, we would not have made it without the help of some amazing people who guided and encouraged us and made things happen when they needed to.

Warning, mixed metaphor ahead! Because along our journey we learned this: it takes a village to raise innkeepers.

Since our new life is a business, we should probably start with its financial origins: without parental investments and inheritances, we would still be teaching. Thanks so much, Mom and Dad, Aunt Christel, and Mom and Hendrick!! You were all great with money, and we’re gratefully reaping the benefits today. (Although that’s far from the only thing we could thank you for!)

When it comes to the journey itself, we can never be grateful enough to Rick and Janet Wolf of the B&B team: our guides, mentors, and friends. They hung in there tirelessly with us for two+ years and eighteen (!) property showings. And because Rick and Jan are former innkeepers, we saw those properties through innkeepers’ eyes. Priceless. Every showing and every conversation furthered our (starting from zero) knowledge about the world of inn keeping. They truly cared about getting us into the right property, and helped us understand why we had to walk away from the wrong ones—in effect putting our interest above their own. It was a very proud and moving moment when, at our closing on the Towne Motel, Rick pinned the B&B Team’s pineapple pin (the colonial American sign of hospitality) on our shirts. We love you two. And we miss you!

Thanks to Dana Moos for making things go so smoothly as the sellers’ agent. Dana, you were great fun to work with…and we are using your recipes today! We’re waiting for you to stop by sometime soon (we know you’re in town more often than we see you 🙂

To Liz Scott of Coldwell Banker, great thanks for so quickly selling our Jersey Shore home this summer, under great time pressure. Liz, our dream would have fallen apart without your tenaciousness, expertise, and uber-professionalism. And your patience with us!

To Bonnie Lyster, thanks for watching our cats with care and kindness while we were on our inn-hunting treks. We will miss you when we take our first trip away from here. To Jo Freilich at the High Tide, thanks for keeping Mom and Hendrick’s former inn beautiful and flourishing, inspiring this idea in the first place three summers ago, and always encouraging us along the way. You even helped us keep our sanity during our first weeks in Camden!

To Kurt Maynard from Skowhegan Savings: you were a godsend when it came to sanity keeping as well. We never thought it possible to have a mortgage banker this friendly, calm, professional and fun to communicate with! Nothing was ever impossible for you, and without your speedy cooperation with everyone (the many other wonderful people who worked on this deal), we’d probably still be tooling around looking for an inn to buy and finance.

And finally to Rick and Jane Ellis, former owners of the Towne Motel: we cannot thank you enough for all that you taught us, for your wonderful warmth and generosity, and for the great property and wonderful staff you have passed on to us ( a staff who will get their own blog tribute shortly). It truly was a sad day for all of us here when you drove off on your journey to Maryland (and a scary one!) but you are “with” us every day as we try to maintain your high standards of hospitality (and as we still bug you with questions by email!) We hope you will always think of Towne Motel as your home away from home in Maine! We’ll turn two lights on for you, in whichever available room you like.

Katja and Siobhan

» facebook mail rss