After the weekend guests had enjoyed breakfast with fresh eggs from the hens in back of The Egremont Village Inn, I learned about this family’s seven year-long effort to revive live music in the old Curtis Barn in Egremont, MA, and burnish a historic inn in the Berkshires.
Whose idea was it to buy an inn in Egremont? Where do you all live?
SK: Seven years ago, on December 27, 2012, we bought this property when I was 80 years old. I was living in my house in Rhinebeck, NY. My daughter, Gigi Teeley, was aware that the inn was for sale and we made a decision together to pool our resources and buy the property. I live here at the inn, Nick and Jenny Rubin, who is the Barn’s programmer/curator/manager, live across the street, and Gigi lives nearby.
NK: From the very beginning it was about reopening the Barn and bringing live music back to the area. From the 1970s until 1983 the Barn was the infamous Robbie Burns Pub, a real honky-tonk rollicking bar featuring local musicians. It’s been great to have many of them come back here to play. There used to be ten live music venues in Egremont and Alford, and now there is only the Barn. Having a place to gather where there is live music, good food and drink is an important nutrient for a community.
How did you decide what was a fair price for the property?
NK: Initially it was too expensive, but it’s not necessarily easy to sell an inn and the price eventually went down. The previous inn, the Weathervane, was very dated and the 1820 barn was completely dilapidated and needed total restoration. The property also includes ten acres between the golf course and the cemetery, which adds to its value. It’s very hard to comp a 14-room house with ten bedrooms. Running a business like this is a lot of work and we all understood that the hospitality business was a “tough racket.”
What did you do after you purchased the inn? Did you have any models?
NK: We threw a lot of the furniture out before renovating and re-opening under our new name, The Egremont Village Inn, in May 2013. It took us another three years to fully renovate the barn.
There aren’t many other combination inn and music performance space examples to guide what we were doing. We just went ahead with our vision for it. Every year the Barn becomes more successful while the inn is performing in line with other bed and breakfasts. It’s not something you do to get rich. It’s a lifestyle change where you may be able to use your career skills in a different way. My own were in the hospitality industry and advertising, Gigi’s in performing/teaching, Sarah, our mom was an opera/voice teacher, and Jenny’s background is in music club management/stand-up comedy booking performers in NYC.
The goats and chickens in the back are a newish addition to the inn. The goats were babies last summer and guests love visiting them. The chickens provide fresh eggs for our breakfasts. We have also added a garden for vegetables, and fresh ingredients for the food we serve in the Barn. We are all animal lovers and take in rescue dogs, although we only allow guests with pets to stay in the carriage house for allergy considerations.
What was the hardest part of transforming the property?
NK: Definitely the hardest part was the physical restoration of the barn. We worked with very talented local craftsmen to put it back together again.
Who are your customers? How important are electronic booking services?
NK: Our guests come from all over the world. Some are tourists visiting the Berkshires from all parts of the US and foreign countries, others are parents with kids in private schools nearby, or seasonal visitors who want to ski or look at autumn colors. And now those who come to hear music in the Barn and enjoy a night out, sometimes prefer to stay here rather than driving home. Increasingly we have repeat customers who enjoy the casual, laid back quality of the inn and our delicious breakfasts. We handle weddings only on a selective basis.
Internet hotel booking sites like booking.com that has a European following, and Expedia, which brings together over 50 booking sites, are important to filling rooms. These intermediaries account for around 30% of our inn business, but their fees are very high – as much as 17% of the room price – not including further discounts we might offer seasonally. Unlike some small inns and bed and breakfasts, we don’t advertise on Airbnb.
What can inn owners do about bad reviews online like Trip Advisor?
NK: It took us about a year and a half to get beyond the bad reviews of the previous inn. It can be difficult to expunge these opinions despite a name change and much contact with Trip Advisor. Right now we are rated “awesome” on booking.com and “excellent” on Expedia. I always read our reviews. We get a lot of positive feedback. Every once an a while there’s bad review and, like all good business owners should, I try to pay attention when something disappoints a customer, figure out if it’s accurate, and how to do it better.
What other kind of marketing do you do?
NK: We advertise on radio, and in print publications, and are active on Instagram, Facebook, and our website. We spend a good chunk on advertising.
What about maintenance?
NK: We do have a maintenance checklist, but things always come up that need immediate attention. Key to running an inn is to have reliable plumbers and electricians who can fix problems as they occur. Toilets are always a big problem that needs to be fixed quickly.
I can’t stress enough the importance of these relationships – especially with a historic building to look after – with the local tradesmen. They are in great demand around here – they are always booked.
How often do you replace mattresses?
NK: All of our mattresses have been replaced since we purchased the inn. Some twice. Mattresses tend to last longer in an inn than they would in your home because they are not slept in every night, and each guest sleeps differently so mattresses wear more evenly.
How do you sign up performers?
NK: We’ve been very blessed to have many amazing talented performers making music and art here, everything from Grammy-winning artists to the best local musicians and performers. Jenny heads up the booking and is the real reason we’ve won Best Live Music in the Berkshires two years in a row. She and I both worked in New York at music clubs and know tons of artists. Everyone in our family and circle is connected to the performing arts.
But what’s best is that musicians have a great experience here. They are compensated fairly, given top-notch accommodations, and treated with respect.
How many employees do you have? What’s the hardest help to find?
NK: We have a great crew of about seven part-time people, including two housekeepers. Kitchen help is almost impossible to find and is a crisis for restaurants, bars, and inns in the Berkshires and lots of areas of the country.
What is the difference in your mind between a bed and breakfast and an inn?
NK: Scale and scope. Having an eatery or tavern makes it an inn.
What are your plans for the future?
NK: We plan on adding a coffee shop open to everyone. There’s a real need for breakfast spots around here and this would give our guests flexibility on where to eat.
What do you like the most about running an inn and performance venue?
JR: I value the creation of a hub for this community. Its funny, many people have told each one of us that their lives have changed because of the inn and Barn. We have heard human-interest stories about the Barn with real epiphanies. It’s something about the resurrection of the Barn that the community has embraced. It feels as though I have found my mission in life. I don’t miss New York City at all.
NK: People have gathered in taverns for a thousand years. The Barn gives everyone a place to come and be part of a community. •
To learn more about The Egremont Village Inn and the Barn, you can call (413) 528-9580, or visit them online at www.theegremontvillageinn.com.