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December 5, 2018

Historic Belgrade inn ready for a new era

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
168 Main St. in Belgrade Lakes, built in 1843 as an inn and tavern, opened last week as an inn and is already getting bookings for next year.

BELGRADE LAKES — When real estate brokers Linda Fontaine and Linda Shultz toured 168 Main St. preparing it for its listing photo shoot summer, they were struck by the possibilities.

"We were upstairs, and I thought, 'Wow, this place is amazing,'" Fontaine said.

The brokers, who are partners along with Dawn Klein in Lakehome Group real estate in Belgrade Lakes, listed the 4,800-square-foot property and started showing it.

"But I couldn't stop thinking about it," Fontaine said.

Fontaine and Shultz ended up acting on their intuition that the house, an Italianate two-story building with a distinctive cupola built in 1843 as an inn and tavern, was something special, and now lease the building from owner Sam Wells.

Their commercial application was approved by the town last week, and the Lakeshore Inn sign was hung.

"After all, brokers are entrepreneurs," Fontaine said Tuesday as she sat in the inn's sunny kitchen, which overlooks Long Pond.

Shultz's family once owned the Featherbed Inn in Mount Vernon. "She had the knowledge and skill and I had the enthusiasm and desire," Fontaine said, laughing.

The property was most recently the site of seasonal 168 Main, which offered wood-fired pizza out of an outdoor oven., run by owner Wells. Before that, it was the Belgrade Lakes House bed and breakfast.

Fontaine and Schultz not only plan to operate it as a year-round inn — there are already two bookings by golfing parties for June and October and inquiries from wedding parties — but also as event space.

The roomy downstairs has a large eat-in kitchen, which is open to guests, as well as a formal dining room and a front parlor. There is also a kitchen in the basement, which opens onto a patio under the deck, facing the lake. Five bedrooms, all with baths, sleep a total of 10.

The building also has modern amenities. There's individual coffee service in the rooms, and a wood-pellet stove chugs in the kitchen. It has wireless smoke detectors, thanks to Fontaine's husband, Fred, a Bath Iron Works engineer.

The property has parking for six cars and they may reconfigure it for more, she said — it's a commodity on tight Main Street. There's a long deck on two sides of the house, overlooking Long Pond, as well as a backyard on the lakeshore. A dock will go in in the summer.

There is a large barn, which isn't winterized, but is roomy and is being considered for use as seasonal rented commercial space. Before the wood-fired pizza business, the barn housed a seasonal gallery that featured local artists.

Fontaine said part of the motivation in opening the inn is for it to become part of the village's economic foundation. "It's a great property, and we're trying to bring it back to its original purpose, and give back to the community as well," she said.

History and commerce

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
87 Main St. in Belgrade was recently renovated and opened early this year a a three-suite commercial property.

The inn was built by Hiram Savage in 1843 as a waypoint between Augusta and Farmington. At the time, it took travelers two hours by horse-drawn carriage to reach it from the capital, 18 miles away, and it was another four hours to Farmington.

Much of its history has been as an inn — a pamphlet framed and given to the inn's new owners by Eric Hoagland of the Belgrade Lakes Historical Society advertises it as Lake View Manor and Cottages. The brochure assures potential visitors "many pleasant auto trips are made from this central location."

Route 27, which in Belgrade Lakes is Main street, traverses a narrow strip of land between Great and Long ponds in the village and is still the main route from Augusta to points northwest.

Fontaine, Shultz and Klein earlier this year opened Lakehome at 75 Main St., which they lease, renovating a building that was in disrepair and was most recently rental housing. Klein's Belgrade & Co. arts shop is due to open soon in part of the 3,000-square-foot building. There are two rental apartments on the second floor.

Fontaine also bought and renovated 39 Main St. in 2014. The cape-style house at the south end of the village had a popular gift shop on the property until its owner died a couple years before Fontaine bought it.

The gift shop space is now leased to Hello Good Pie bakery, which was planned as a seasonal business when it opened in 2015, but was so popular it immediately became year-round.

Fontaine is also broker for recently renovated commercial space at 87 Main St., which opened at the beginning of the year.

The former antiques store at the corner of Hulin Road was split into three suites. One now houses Happy Girl, an apparel and accessories store, and the other a CPA office. The middle suite is still available, and Fontaine says the 983 square feet would make a great yoga studio or gym.

"How many people travel to Hallowell, or Augusta, to go to a yoga class or to work out?" she said "People are going out of town for things we could have right here."

While commercial business is tricky in the village because of concern about the lakes that back up to both sides of Main Street's lots and the small amount of inventory on the half-mile stretch that also includes many residential properties, Fontaine sees more possibilities.

She thinks retail, like a bookstore or home goods store would do well.

Local need for rental units

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The backyard of year-round Lakeshore Inn overlooks Long Pond. The bird feeder is a replica of the building.

She said there is also strong need for rental units, including year-round vacation lodging, and long and short-term apartment rentals.

She rents out the house at 39 Main St., which can sleep six, and said it's rarely empty. The two apartments above Lakehome accommodate either vacation renters or longer-term renters have been in demand since they opened earlier this year.

"I have to turn people away, refer them to other places," she said.

That experience is what led she and Shultz to believe the inn would be a success.

While there are other vacation rooms to rent on Main Street, the only large venue is the Village Inn, which closes in the winter.

The Wings Hill Inn, in the north part of the village, across Mill Stream in Rome, recently closed for good.

Vacationers looking for short-term stays often stay in Augusta or Waterville, a winding 17 miles between the lakes.

Lodgers at the various properties Fontaine owns or co-owns are frequently visiting for Colby College events in Waterville, weddings or job interviews.

"One thing I get asked all the time is, 'How far are you from Colby?'" Fontaine said.

But there are also longer-term renters, many who are between housing or new to the area.

Fontaine refers potential renters to other spaces in town if she can't accommodate them, including rooms and the cottage at Balloons & Things, next door at 174 Main St. Finding a balance on what to charge for rooms is still being worked out — room prices need to be competitive with other places in town. Compared to the Portland area, rates are relatively low. The Village Inn, for instance, charges between $145 to $245 a night at the height of the summer season, depending on the room.

The Lakeshore Inn won't compete with other lodging in town, but will be part of a bigger picture, she said.

"We're going to collaborate with them," she said. "We can work together on a lot of things, sharing things."

She and Diane Oliver, who owns Days Store, two doors down from the inn, have discussed community events, like fundraisers, their businesses can co-host.

'I bet you wished you lived here'

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The inn joins Balloons & Things (center) and Days Store on Main Street, the main route from Augusta to Farmington.

Fontaine says the village's attractiveness as a commercial hub is "its best-kept secret."

A long-delayed road upgrade to the half-mile of Route 27 that makes up Main Street is ongoing, despite the weather. Included will be finishing touches including brick sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, benches and better parking.

Even before the upgrade, and during it, the village has appeal, even to those just driving through.

Fontaine was recently in front of the post office, across the street from Days, when a woman, who'd driven up in a car with out-of-state plates, said, "This place is adorable."

"I bet you wished you lived here," Fontaine replied.

"She said, 'You must sell real estate,'" Fontaine said, laughing.

She said, though, her feelings go beyond that and are rooted in Belgrade Lakes as a community.

She's excited about the future and she and her partners have put their resources behind that belief.

Once the road project is completed next spring, "I think it's going to boom," Fontaine said. "It's going to bloom when it's done."

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