As you know, Hemlock Inn closes every winter, except for a few get away weekends and some special events. Lainey and I use the winter months to rest from the exertion of the season past, and begin preparations and planning for the next season. However we also use this unique time to reflect on what we do as innkeepers and why we continue to do it, even after 28 years.
We are often asked how we became innkeepers in the first place. Lainey’s story is easy. Her parents, John and Ella Jo Shell, bought the inn when she was just 12 years old. She grew up in the inn business and did whatever was required from cleaning rooms, to serving tables in the dining room, to occasional duties in the office. She went with her parents as they bought supplies for the business and to attend inn meetings. When she graduated from college and was asked if she would ever return to run the family business, she simply said it depended on who she married. That’s where I come in.
When I am asked how I became an innkeeper, I usually start with a silly comment…”I was destined to be an innkeeper from all my experiences. I learned compassion from my years working at the American National Red Cross; I learned financial skills from my years in banking; and then I married the owner’s daughter”. There is some truth in the humor. I never intended to work in their family business, but the Shell’s asked us to consider coming and help them out, and the time to leave the bank seemed right. We decided we needed to come and help and see if this was right for us.
Lainey grew up here and knew what was ahead. I did not. I arrived and, quite frankly, did not have a clear understanding of what Hemlock Inn was. I looked at it through the eyes of a banker. My early time was spent on budgets, cutting expenses while increasing revenue, increasing productivity. My goal was to make Hemlock Inn a thriving, successful, prosperous business. The guests were a means to accomplish that, but I spent most of my time with paper and pencil rather that with them. Boy was I wrong! It took me several years to figure out what John told me from the very beginning……”Hemlock Inn is not just a place, it’s a feeling.”
Our guests are treasures and the reason we are here. Our goal is to provide them with a place of comfort and peace. A place that takes them away from whatever gives them stress. For many, it means simply getting them out of the rat race of large cities to the quiet solitude of nature. For others it is providing them a place to meet and become friends with folks who have no hidden agendas or manipulative plans. They just want to talk about the hike they took, or the rafting trip they just experienced, or their children or new grandchild. That usually then leads to discussions of shared values and dreams. Invariably, it leads to friendship, caring…and sometime even healing. That gives us great joy because the place becomes a feeling of warmth and safety.
We received an email this winter that tells this story best. This guest told of their visit last season and of the time this winter when she mentioned to her children the possibility of another trip to the mountains this coming summer. Her son specifically said he would like to go back to Hemlock Inn because he felt closer to God than usual. She closed her email by saying. “I’m sure y’all face many challenges in running the inn. I think you provide a place to be still and know that He is God. I chose your inn last year because I needed a place to restore my soul. Be encouraged that your work makes a difference in people’s lives.” Wow! What encouragement.
Hemlock Inn is a place. It is old by today’s standards. It is rustic, doesn’t have a swimming pool, or flat screen TVs in the rooms. There is so much we want to do and it has been frustrating, especially in the recent years of this “economic adjustment”. But Hemlock Inn is also a feeling that transcends the physical. It is a sincere and honest feeling that can only be described as peace, comfort…and love.
Why are we Innkeepers? Because even though it is long hours and sometimes challenging, it is also fulfilling and rewarding. Who could ask for more?