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The ink was barely dry after Travis Ferland signed the papers to officially become the new owner of The Rangeley Inn & Tavern in August 2013, when a painting crew arrived to begin putting a fresh coat of sky-blue paint over the inn's exterior shingles.
“I wanted to demonstrate to people something was going to happen here, and to do it before the Labor Day weekend,” he says, noting that prior to that first-day facelift the inn's exterior siding had been painted in at least five different hues of greyish-blue. “I wanted it to be one shade, a lighter blue. I really wanted it to look like the inn was coming back to life.”
His careful renovations retain the inn's historic ambience while also meeting the expectations of modern-day visitors. They also help solidify the inn as an anchor of Rangeley's tourism economy. Located at 2443 Main St. since its opening in 1909 as The Rangeley Tavern, the inn is within easy walking distance of restaurants, a movie theater, an espresso-and-gelato shop and several gift shops.
Ferland submitted the winning $800,000 bid for the historic 51-room inn in July 2013, in a foreclosure auction ordered by Zion's First National Bank, the Utah-based lender that had financed the 2004 sale of the property to C.G. and D.G. Development LLC. After the former innkeepers Jean-Charles and Dominique Goude closed the inn for several months in 2012, the inn's future became a topic of local concern. The fears were hardly allayed when the inn reopened in January 2013 under Nationwide Asset Management Group, a firm specializing in court-appointed receivership of distressed commercial and hospitality properties.
Portland-based Tranzon Auction Properties handled the auction. Other than the bank, Ferland says, he was the only bidder.
“It was pretty serendipitous,” Ferland says, noting that after working in New York City for several years he was eager to return to Maine. He knew exactly what he'd be getting into, noting that his parents had purchased “a fairly run-down property” on Shore Road in Ogunquit in 1984 and over the next two decades transformed it into the Pink Blossom Resorts. (They retired and sold the property in 2008.)
“I grew up watching the transformation of something that needed it and seeing it become wildly successful,” Ferland says. “I was also fortunate when I was younger to travel a lot with my parents and being able to see what works well and what doesn't. I'm bringing some of the key values I learned from my parents to this project.”
Ferland's mother Pamela has been an invaluable adviser, both during his due diligence prior to the foreclosure auction and after the purchase, when she helped him determine which furniture should be kept and which should be set aside for a yard sale. From last fall until this March, the initial interior renovations focused on meeting fire safety codes, including investment in a sprinkler system and outside escape stairways.
Guest suites were expanded, sometimes combining two rooms to make one larger guest room, which reduced the total rooms from 51 to 30. Remodeled guest rooms have new flat-screen televisions and mattresses, combined with historic touches like wood floors and refurbished desk chairs. Turn-of-the-century photographs retrieved by his mother from the inn's attic now adorn many of the walls.
One guest room became a “honeymoon suite,” complete with a Jacuzzi-style bath tub and an impressive view of nearby Haley Pond and distant mountains.
“We're trying to be more of a 'boutique' property that retains the historic nature of this place but also meets modern standards,” he says.
Ferland also installed mini-split heat pumps in the rooms, enabling him to maintain a constant baseline warmth that improves guest comfort and helps minimize the use of a central propane burner he installed to replace the inn's expensive oil heating system. “Energy, by far, is one of our biggest expenses,” he says. “Despite what the price of oil is now, I know it will go up.”
“I've put a lot of sweat equity into it,” he adds. “I have some very committed employees who work full time on marketing and managing this place … It's definitely been a team effort.”
Jennifer Farmer, the inn's sales and marketing manager, sees evidence the interior upgrades and outer facelift, coupled with Ferland's strong focus on customer service and a greater attention to both traditional and online marketing, are beginning to pay off. A few bus tours have already returned to the inn, and several others have made inquiries for the coming summer and fall season, she says.
“We've been getting the word out that there's a new owner,” she says, noting that the inn's tavern and function rooms can host corporate retreats, holiday parties, trade group meetings, small conventions and group tours.
Rates for the guest rooms range from $100 to $195 in the main building and from $100 to $165 in the separate Haley Pond lodge.
“It's a dream job for me,” Farmer says, noting her husband works at the nearby Saddleback Ski Area and that her previous jobs in the hospitality trade chiefly involved working for national hotel chains. “This is not a cookie-cutter building. It has so much charm and history; it's a step back in time.”
Both Farmer and Ferland say the Internet plays a big role in bookings — they note 70% of customers visit the inn's website before booking — and that their exposure on booking.com has generated an increasing number of bookings from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. “I was surprised to see how quickly we are getting that business with little or no effort on our part,” Ferland says of those bookings.
“They're drawn here because they've heard of the beauty of the Rangeley Lakes area,” Farmer adds. “They want to come to Maine and after they've spent some time on the coast, they want to see the mountains … They also want to see a moose — it's pretty easy to see one around here if you know where to look.”
Not surprisingly, local merchants have taken note of Ferland's efforts to restore the inn to its former grandeur.
“We've been delighted to have Travis take over the inn,” says Wess Connally, co-owner with his wife of Books, Lines & Thinkers, which is a short walk from the inn and features an eclectic mix of books by local authors such as the well-known biologist Bernd Heinrich. Greeting cards and artwork by local artists complete the look and feeling of the bookstore.
Connally acknowledges “a feeling of unsettlement” came over him when the inn briefly closed in 2012, setting the stage for the 2013 foreclosure auction. With the downtown's longtime pharmacy also being vacant at that time — it's since reopened as the Inner Eye, an espresso, pastry and gelato café —he began to wonder if Rangeley was in danger of becoming the western Maine stand-in for Maine humorist Tim Sample's classic joke about the “Eastport vacant building festival.”
“I'm dependent on the tourism trade,” he says. “The biggest shopping season for us is July and August … Any time you get that place full, you're going to get walk-in business.”
“That's a huge landmark in Rangeley — it's the oldest hotel that's left,” agrees Linda Dexter, owner of Ecopelagicon, a store that rents and sells kayaks, stocks a wide range of outdoor gear and nature books, including guidebooks of the Appalachian Trail and other items appealing to tourists, such as a moose-watching map identifying the best local spots. “Having something that big not being open hurt the town. It's great to have it come back. Travis is terrific.”
Dexter says she gets a lot of walk-in customers from the inn, including visitors wanting to rent kayaks and canoes from her to paddle in Hadley Pond, or who are interested in one of the guided paddles she and her daughter offer in the Rangeley Lakes region. In the last couple of years, she's noticed a growing number of international travelers who very much want “authentic” outdoor experiences in the ponds, lakes and mountains of western Maine.
“There's definitely a local flavor to the inn,” she says. “It's not a Marriott in which wherever you are, they're all alike. It's definitely a unique place.”