B&Bs, guest houses can’t keep up with influx of tourists
HUDSON – There are now nine inns around the city, and as their number has grown over the last decade they have used local contractors and craftsmen, purchased décor from local antiques dealers, and now that the lion’s share of restoration is done, they cater to patrons for the city’s stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. Under the radar, they have begun to function as a new economic engine for the city.
These relatively new innkeepers, by restoring crumbling historic homes, have aided the economy not only through the purchase of labor and materials needed to restore and improve their buildings, but also upgrading the value of some structures and contributing to the restoration movement that has made the city of Hudson so attractive to newcomers in recent years. The inns’ 50 rooms can provide lodging for 5,000 people annually on weekends alone.
In the 1960s and ’70s Hudson had little to attract tourists, and into the 1990s, long-time residents remember the many vacant storefronts on Warren Street at a time when the city could barely support one restaurant, the streets did not feel safe and city leaders considered constructing a modern train station instead of restoring the historic one in use today. Now that station is a gateway to visitors who come to Hudson on Amtrak because it has become a city friendly to walkers.
“All of the guest houses in Hudson are booked every weekend year round,” said Windle Davis, who owns The Inn at Hudson on Allan Street with his partner, Dini Lamot. In a recent phone conversation Mr. Davis said he receives hundreds of phone calls each day during the busiest time of the year and has to turn most away. As a result he started the website StayinHudson.com.
“I’m hardly a pioneer,” said Paul Barrett of his choice to open The Country Squire in 2005 in the midst of an economic downturn. “A lot was happening. The economy slowed but Hudson did not go backward. We continued to grow when everywhere else was stagnating or sliding backwards. It’s been a wonderful experience. We started slow and then clicked. It’s not just weekends, but 7 days a week, 12 months a year. I’m booked solid the next 9 days. I’m turning people away,” he said in mid-April.
In addition to guests from New York City and Boston, there visitors coming now from other states, from Canada, Australia, Bermuda, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and India. Filmmakers and advertising companies use the city for location work. Mr. Barrett said a film featuring the pianist Jenny Lin will be shot in his inn this spring.
Weddings, business conferences and family reunions draw a great many guests, and a cycling group has booked three summer Sunday/Monday packages, preferring to come when traffic is lighter.
Max Cenci opened his Tuscan style, Warren Street restaurant, Ca’mea, eight years ago, and then his Inn at Ca’mea four years later. He says of the inn, “It was the best thing we ever did.” When two houses that overlook the restaurant’s garden became vacant, they worried about noise bothering residential neighbors. Opening an inn was the solution and gave them room to grow fresh vegetables for the restaurant.
Kim Bach started Verdigris Bed and Breakfast three years ago. Two years after she started her cafe and tea room, Ms. Bach decided to offer the upstairs rooms to guests, who enter the inn by a stairway at the rear of the cafe at all hours and at night. One guest paid her the next day for the chocolates he helped himself to during the night.
Verdigris is completely booked for June by a film crew. Musicians who come to town to perform at Club Helsinki or to record at the Hirsh Studio are frequent guests.
Russ Gibson and Duncan Calhoun opened The Croff House two years ago.
“Some people said we were crazy to open in a down economy, but we said if not now when, and took the plunge,” said Mr. Gibson. They found that customers who might have vacationed in Europe were staying closer to home. “There just aren’t enough rooms in Hudson,” he said. They discovered that the Internet and the reviews they receive have been invaluable in helping them attract customers.
Hudson’s newest guest house is the Hudson Merchant House on Front Street, which Mike Webber and Roy Ardizzone opened this month. In the course of setting up their business they found other innkeepers welcoming. A few doors down, the MOD Restaurant will also open up a guest house soon. The two are located just a block from the train station and a short walk from the river.
Chris Wagoner, owner of the Union Street Guest House, the oldest inn in town, relocated to Hudson from Los Angeles nine years ago where he worked for Ridley Scott’s RSA production company making music videos for performers like Madonna, U2, Celine Dion, Christina Agulera and Metallica. He came to Hudson because he liked architecture and wanted to restore a building. The proprietor of the only inn in town at the time, which has since closed, suggested he take in guests and offered to send his overflow. Mr. Wagoner, who had not thought about what to do with all his space, liked the idea. But he did not want to serve breakfast, so he called his place a guest house and provides tea and coffee for guests in their suites instead. He started out with just one room, adding more as he finished them. Now he rents out suites in two buildings and thinks of his inn as a boutique hotel that offers more privacy than a B&B.
When the economy slumped in 2008 and 2009, Mr. Wagoner found that he could not rent all his rooms in a third building he owns down the street. But things look better this year. “It’s come back quite a bit in the last year. It’s been a good winter,” he said. He credits the opening last year of Club Helsinki in addition to the antiques stores, restaurants and the Hudson Opera house as attractions for people coming to town.
“Tourism is a much bigger deal in Hudson than most people understand. Hudson has become one of the premier destinations in the region. It’s been fun to watch the tourism grow. I think this will be the best summer yet.”
In addition to being an innkeeper, Mr. Wagoner serves on Hudson’s Common Council. He is proud that his swing vote saved the Washington Hose Company, a former firehouse located at the foot of Warren Street, for civic use.
As picturesque and pleasant as the business sounds, it is not for the fainthearted or for those without financial resources. Just renovating a house so that it provides a memorably pleasant experience to a constant stream of guests can be a heroic accomplishment. Most renovation narratives have included complete rewiring, new plumbing and roofs. Local laws allow B&B’s to rent only five rooms per building, which puts constraints on potential income despite a sizable initial investment. Rooms start at around $100 a night.
“We’re not getting rich here,” said Mr. Davis, who pays $20,000 annually in property taxes. “What we make would never be enough to support a family. We are just getting by.” But despite the challenges, the innkeepers’ enthusiasm for their business remains strong.
All the innkeepers contacted for this article spoke highly of the others and said that they had been helpful to newcomers entering the field, rather than competitive, and they praise the sense of community they find among Hudson businesses.
“We all help each other,” said Mr. Wagoner.