A young couple’s dream comes true on Rockport’s Bearskin Neck
Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
He could have been speaking directly about Krystle and Eric Leveille, owners of the Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge. This year marks the fifth season the couple has run the Rockport motel on its picturesque namesake, Bearskin Neck.
The Leveilles grew up in Douglas, Mass., a small town that borders Connecticut and Rhode Island, but didn’t attend the same high school, so it wasn’t until the summer before Krystle’s senior year at Bowdoin College that they met at a cookout back home. Not too long after meeting, the smitten couple joined their lives together with a mutual “life’s too short” philosophy.
“My mother died from cancer,” Krystle explained. “Eric and I both had other jobs at the time. We realized that no one can really plan their future. We felt that we needed to create the kind of life we wanted to live on a day-to-day basis.”
The husband and wife took leap of faith and decided to pursue their mutual dream of running an inn. They looked first in Maine, and, although they didn’t buy there, they learned an important lesson. “The innkeepers that we spoke to were very helpful and encouraging,” Eric said. “The most important advice they gave us was to make sure that one of us kept a day job — starting a business like this isn’t realistic without one steady income.”
This was sound advice and Eric is glad that he stayed with his primary profession as an electrical engineer.
The Leveilles ended up deciding to remain in Massachusetts. When they discovered the Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge, they knew they had found their spot.
The Lodge has only had three other owners in its nearly 50-year history.
“The history of the property was important to us,” Krystle said. “We liked that the previous proprietors had developed their own client base. Some of those guests still return each year; some even since day one. And we have now established our own repeat visitors. We call them the ‘New Regulars.’”
The Leveille’s personal life plan also called for their home to be in “a sweet, charming town where you could walk to everything.” Rockport certainly ticked that box.
The couple is quick to point out that, though the previous owners loved it, “they were just at a point where they couldn’t do it on their own any more. They had already done a lot, but the place was in definite need of some TLC,” Krystle said.
Eric smiled, “We’re always fixing something.”
That’s for sure. The pair first began their modifications by repainting all the rooms. They updated the furniture, and in 2014 added, yes, air conditioning.
As luck would have it, Eric does 90 percent of the work himself — he’s the handyman. Eric built walk-in closets and dressers. They added refrigerators. All the windows had wooden shutters, so they put in new shades. The couple bought all new mattresses, linens, and towels.
“Most of the profit that we make here goes directly back into the property,” Eric said.
. . . . .
“We listen to our guests,” Krystle said. “It’s all in the little things. One guest suggested blackout curtains, so we bought two tiers of curtains so that guests can see out, but no one can see in. It sounds easy, but it took me two days to do all eight rooms,” she laughed.
Major repairs, such as putting on a roof (which they recently did), are left up to the experts. “We had masonry work done to repair cracked bricks. It’s stuff nobody notices, but it has to be fixed,” Krystle said.
Krystle has a creative background, which includes an undergraduate degree in Film Studies from Bowdoin, and a Master’s in Cinema and Media studies from the prestigious University of Chicago. She previously worked in college admissions at Holy Cross and Becker College. She’s also got a good memory and is a real ‘people person.’ “I remember the little things that people appreciate; I love getting to know our guests and their stories.”
She also has a flair for interior design and believes that her visitors benefit from the beauty provided by the simplicity of their decor. “People are trying to get away from their cluttered lives,” Krystle remarks. “I have framed sea glass in each room that I personally collected at Front Beach. It gives the space that quintessential New England feeling.”
The Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge has eight rooms, all with oceanfront views. But, perhaps even more important: They have parking! On Bearskin Neck! Guests can park right in front of the hotel, and then walk straight into a room that overlooks Rockport’s Front Beach and Sandy Bay. Every room has the same view — and it is magnificent.
“Reservations come in all of the time,” Eric said. “Many people request a room with an ocean view. They don’t realize that ALL our rooms have ocean views. For some reason they don’t look at the online pictures.”
People also ask to be near Main Street. “They’ll say ‘how close are we to Main Street and downtown Rockport?’” Krystle smiles. “‘You’re in it,’ I tell them. Then they’ll ask if they’ll be near restaurants, shops, etc. I tell them again, ‘You’re in it.’” Krystle is really laughing now. “Guests call us and say they got ‘funny directions’. How can they drive down this pedestrian walkway? No funny directions we say. Cars can drive on this street.”
“Our uniqueness is that we are in the middle of everything. And in a town like Rockport where parking is so tough. You can walk to everything,” Krystle said. “Front beach is just a half mile away. You can drop your family off at the beach with their gear and come back, park and walk to meet them.”
The couple direct guests to restaurants, tour attractions, and special events. Many guests get their meals to go and enjoy them on the motel’s back deck.
. . . . .
The Leveilles reside in a building adjacent to the lodge. Having a separate space gives them a sense of home. That said, they do have an office downstairs, which they happily share with their guests.
“I make coffee around 4:30 a.m., which is when I get up to go to work in Cambridge,” Eric explains. “We keep lots of brochures in the office and one of us is always available to help guests out. The Chamber of Commerce will post information regarding all of the upcoming local events.”
“I walk our dog, Zoey, at around this time. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be enjoying the beautiful sunrises,” Krystle continues. Eric nods in agreement. “We don’t allow pets on the property, but people enjoy hanging out with Zoey when they need a dog fix.”
. . . . .
The Lodge, which opened for the season on March 31, takes reservations until early December. But the “really crazy, busiest time” is July through October. And the Leveilles are never more than a phone call away. But even with a great staff, emergencies do arise, employees get sick, something breaks and needs to be repaired. Eric is somewhat of a regular at Smith Hardware. “They see us a lot,” Eric smiles. “They have free popcorn, which is always a plus.”
Whenever possible, Eric tries to get a reprieve from his never-ending work schedule. “I get to escape and go out on my boat once in a while. We grew up around lakes and rivers in central Massachusetts, but this will be my fourth season of ocean fishing,” he laughs. “I’m just trying not to kill myself out there."
Living in a 24-hour world brings the hoteliers a unique set of struggles.
“People forget that there’s just two of us here in the evening. We’ll get the occasional late night phone call. Once, I got a call from a woman who needed a plastic fork. At 2:00 a.m.! It’s like they think we’re a Marriott, where someone is manning a reception desk all night long.”
The couple really look forward to seeing their guests each year. “It’s not like a business all of the time; it’s like seeing old friends and catching up with their lives over the past year.”
Their online booking service looks like a “map of the world.” They have regulars from Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as receiving guests from faraway places like South Africa, Russia, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, and France.
“A couple once commented on a painting that hangs on our office wall. We bought it in Venice, Italy, on our honeymoon. The couple told us that they owned the castle directly across from where it was painted. They said if we were ever in the area to stop by!” Eric then added, “You never know if those offers are real, but they sure sound good at the time.”
Repeat guests will often re-book the day they leave for the following summer. “I felt bad,” said Krystle, “a woman needed five rooms in May and I had to turn her away because we were full. ‘But it’s only February!’ the woman said.”
Eric and Krystle get many bookings because of their excellent TripAdvisor reviews, but also from word of mouth. Case in point: a couple arrived from Norway saying their neighbors told them they had to stay at the Lodge while traveling in New England.
. . . . .
The Leveilles say they are in this venture for the long haul. It’s tough work — they both know first-hand — but it’s worth it. Eventually, after Eric retires and the mortgage is paid, they’ll be truly seasonal.
“We’ll travel more then. Travel gives us a new perspective — it kind of helps us to tweak the way we do things here. There’s always an opportunity to improve. We take in the best and worst of a place, and come back with fresh eyes. You know?” Krystle said.
At the end of last season, the couple took a spontaneous trip to Key West. This winter, they planned a “calm-before-the-storm-trip” with another couple.
“Once we get all of our prep work done, we’re heading to Sonoma, California, with another couple,” Krystle said. “Then to Vegas!” Eric adds.
She smiles at him, “As my friend said to me, ‘Sonoma for the girls, Vegas for the boys.’”
Krystle gets introspective. “But we are truly lucky. Lucky enough to have a good business in a good location.”
For a couple who says you can’t plan for the future, it sounds like they’re succeeding at doing just that — all while living each day to its fullest.
▶︎ Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge, 64 Bearskin Neck, Rockport. (978) 546 6677. The 2017 season runs from March 31 – December 2. For more information, visit the website.
Cynthia Hendrickson is a Gloucester native and freelance writer. She is a member of the Finish Line writers group at the Gloucester Writers Center. Cynthia owns Cape Ann Foodie Tours, which offers historical and culinary walking excursions in the area. Jason Grow is a Gloucester-based commercial photographer.