THE WAYSIDE INN
Sarah Levy wasn’t even in high school when the first season of Gilmore Girls made its debut. Like so many others, she fell in love with the quirky small town of Stars Hollow and energetic innkeeper Lorelai Gilmore. However, even at such an early age, Sarah saw her own dream in Stars Hollow. She knew she wanted to open a small-town inn, just like Lorelai, and foster a close community wherever she landed.
As Sarah grew up in Massachusetts, she worked a variety of different hospitality jobs and eventually took a more permanent position at a startup company, but she never lost sight of her dream to own an inn. She just didn’t think that she would be the owner of a rambling, white fixer-upper in Bethlehem, NH at only twenty-nine years old. “I get ‘Where’s your husband?’ or, ‘Where’s the other innkeeper?’ a lot,” says Sarah with a smile. She is quick to assure the guests that she is indeed the only innkeeper.
When Sarah saw the Wayside Inn, a 180-year-old hotel and restaurant, she said it was love at first sight. Yes, it would require a great deal of work, but it had everything she’d wanted in a quintessential New England refuge – in an ideal location. As her life seemed to be so far ahead of schedule, however, the people she’d hoped would invest in her future business were not yet in a place to do so. Sarah wrote a business plan and presented it to two banks, both of whom accepted it. She chose to work with Union Bank, and her loan officer suggested contacting GRDC for additional funds.
“Meeting with GRDC was really comfortable,” Sarah said. “Bob and Anne were very open and excited about what I was doing. They were really complimentary and had lots of good ideas.” Sarah said they continue to remain friends even after the loan process completed, and are quick to offer her any resources she may need. “They have been supportive ever since. I feel like they’re on my team,” she said.
Sarah used the loan from GRDC as startup funding. She split her loan and used 50% as cashflow to purchase items like new bedding, paint, and cleaning supplies. The other 50% went toward capital improvements such as a roof and new patio with 35 seats right beside the Ammonoosuc River.
Since Sarah’s nonstop dedication on the Wayside began, her business has completely taken off. Before she bought the hotel, the town of Bethlehem had mistakenly thought it was closed. The previous owners also kept very limited restaurant hours as they were trying to retire. Now, the Wayside has a close local following and for most of the year, Sarah is caring for guests from sunup to sundown. She currently has seven employees in the slow season. High season in summer requires hiring up to five more part-timers. She has also improved her online presence on booking sites like Expedia and Booking.com, which has increased her reservations by 40%.
In the future, Sarah hopes to expand the Wayside to include a wedding barn venue. With the help of her supportive community and GRDC, she knows she can turn dreams into a better reality than she or the little town of Bethlehem ever imagined.