In Spring 2016 April Brown and Sarah Sklash purchased The Sportsman Motel on the Loyalist Parkway route to (and from) the Glenora Ferry. The old motel at the edge of Picton has long been a favourite with fishermen and budget travelers. Now April and Sarah are injecting it with their own energy and style and making the most of its great vintage vibe. We talked to them about how it all happened.
April: “A colleague told me about The County six years ago and we came to check it out. Little did we know that this would happen. I’m from Calgary and Sarah is from Windsor, and we became friend at the University of Western Ontario, in London and didn’t go east of Toronto much.
We used to go to the Niagara wineries, and it was the Terroir Run that first pulled us here. We went to Norman Hardie’s for the post-run lunch and experienced the amazing food and wine. We fell in love with The County on that first visit, and Sarah was googling property for sale on the drive home. Sarah and her partner bought a cottage and I came every weekend when I could.”
Sarah: “Last year we were looking to do something different with our lives. I actually used to dream of owning a motel-Seriously! We both love traveling and know that where you stay is a huge part of the experience. There is something cool and quirky about motels, and there’s not many traditional ones left. So when we came across the Sportsman Motel, we saw an opportunity to create something special, to do something creative together. We could make it our own, make a cool place for people to make their home base in The County. There’s more and more demand for accommodation here, so it was a terrific opportunity.”
April: “But it really did happen fast! I never actually met our real estate agent, Sam. We did a lot by phone and set the business up remotely, too. We saw the place twice in February, but I was actually in Arizona the day we purchased it.”
Sarah: “The place was in really good shape, the previous owners had taken great care of it. We’re updating it to be more the style people coming to The County today want to see. It’s like a blank slate for us. We have a lot of ideas. We’re working with a local contractor and local electricians and, it’s funny, when they first came through they were surprised how nice this place is. Because The Sportsman was a little old fashioned, a lot of people overlooked it. We will definitely keep the vintage motel vibe. We want it to feel like a step back in time, but we want to put our own style in there, too. We call it “motel chic!”, a combination of Retro and Right Now.
We have old photographs of The Sportsman, and there have been picnic tables have been here forever! We are DEFINITELY keeping the picnic tables! We don’t want to lose the history, but we’re here now. We like to think of it as The Sportsman’s Daughter.
We weren’t planning on taking ownership right away – we thought we’d do renovations before reopening. But we took possession June 1, and June 3 was the Cheese Festival and we completely sold out! It was crazy, but great to have guests and money coming in. We can take our time finding out what people really want and need in order to spend our money wisely. We’re getting to know people locally and making great partnerships. Kelly Roblin is our next door neighbour and she’s put us on to a female entrepreneurs’ group and told us about the Creative Minds events. We plan on having events here once the renovations are completed.
The 2016 clientele is already quite broad. We still have our fishermen staying with us, but also young couples asking “Where’s the wine? Where can we eat?” We do online booking, Expedia and we personally (for now) use social media, too. We can be out and about and still see bookings coming in. Hooray for technology!
Our first priorities this year were new TVs, new bed linens, the gardens, small changes to the lobby and fixing the balcony. Painting will come last. We have gutted one room to work on as a prototype where we can try out ideas. We can spread the bulk of renovations and decorating over the winter but it will be fun to have this one room to show off.
What’s been so cool for us too is we were worried about the competition, but our second night here the Picton Harbour Inn kept calling to ask “Can we send people over? We’re full. Do you have room?”
Then Alex Fida dropped in a couple of days later with bottles of wine and good advice.
You quickly learn that everybody works together here. It was unexpected. And it is so cool.”
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.