Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sometimes It Takes a Closing ...

Salisbury's White Hart Inn, which closed on Nov. 2, has been deemed important enough by The New York Times to merit an article. It is, of course, an upscale, us-vs-them, Salisbury-is-dying take on the situation, although I must say that is precisely the approach that is called for here.

I mention this development not to critique Peter Applebome's piece, which I think is fair enough, but to examine local reaction to the closing, some of which is mentioned in the NYT article. Many of the media accounts of the closing have mentioned a snarky food review last May by The Lakeville Journal's Marsden Epworth, as if that piece contributed to what the White Hart's wealthy owners, Scott and Roxanne Bok, considered a hostile environment. On his fine website, Rural Intelligence, Dan Shaw even called the review "vicious."

I appreciate Marsden's honesty in assessing the food, which she obviously found lacking. After all, even in a community weekly newspaper, no restaurant or entertainment review is worth the paper it's written on if it isn't honest. But she went beyond that and quoted anonymous diners or customers she overheard. The result was an almost uniformly negative piece that gave the appearance of score-settling.

Ironically, the Boks reaction was to take out a large ad in the LJ responding to the review and to continue with a bold $5 million renovation of the 200-year-old inn once owned by Edsel Ford when he was sending his kids to Hotchkiss.

There are those in the community, such as my friend and colleague Mike Flint, who reject the notion that the locals caused the demise of a venerable local institution. Flint also takes issue with the way the closing was handled -- abruptly and with the sudden loss of jobs for locals themselves.

Let me say this: The only way the inn can continue is if a well-heeled buyer is found. In a interview I conducted with him four years ago, Bok told me the White Hart did little more than break even and the old building was a constant headache requiring endless capital investments.

Is there such a buyer out there in this economic environment? Don't hold your breath, folks.


  1. Terry: Some of the NYT article hits the mark. You must remember when not so long ago the mantra here was "we don't want to end up like Kent," inundated with shoppers, not enough parking and shops everywhere?
    Well, no doubt now other towns might be saying "we don't want to end up like Salisbury" with it's showcase Inn closed up and empty shops. We will soon have some very fine new sidewalks however.
    Unlike Mike and others I have no beef with the way the Boks handled the closing -- we certainly don't know all the details; you've gotta do what you've gotta do.
    And there are various breeds of locals here too, so I don't take the comments personally, especially since they sure aren't talking about me not liking trendy food. Heck, I find $2.25/slice for the pizza up the road out of my budget!
    Jim Britt

  2. Jim … Mr. Anonymous (LOL) …

    You have some good points.

    Salisbury is becoming the GHOST Town that Lakeville IS.

    I would much prefer to be like Kent or Millerton.

    Towns that are alive and attract visitors … a major part of the economy in small communities.

    What is missing in Salisbury is a 'blending' … understanding that the 'LOCALS' are vital to insure that a business exists in the absence of those who are 'part-time' or 'passing through'.

    I would also note that I take exception to the closing (Bok Style) … Unless you know something I don't, I find it rather crude to simply dump the place without any notice. How would he like that done to him? Further, it is not as if there are jobs for these folks to go to on a moments notice, especially at this time of year and in this Town, which lacks generally in employment opportunities or leadership that is interested in doing anything other than turning this place into a museum of what 'once was'.

    Finally for someone that is a true 'business person', you are welcome to experiment with the business, however at the end of the day you have to respond to the consumer and figure out how you can profit by delivering what ALL of you consumers may want.

    To simply throw your hands up and abruptly abandon the business shows a serious lack of business savvy … or indicates that there is something you are not telling us.

    It is much more demanding and difficult to do business in a small town … it takes someone with true savvy to succeed in these small town environments.

    Hopefully someone (with deep pockets) will come along … someone with common sense, business sense and respect for the community they are operating in (Mayberry).

    That person will succeed … It is possible to make change here … however one must be educated in the history and actually be part of this community … there is still some pride and binding here … something that is expressed with pride by those of us who call ourselves 'Raggies'!

    We are proud to be in Mayberry … We want it to live … We just don't want those who think that throwing money around somehow makes you important …

    The Raggie tradition has been that displays giving of oneself, helping others (even when it stresses you), and being honest with one and other.

    God Bless Salisbury!

  3. I think that you are missing the point of the term raggie in NW CT. Perhaps those who have adopted the term found it quaint, but I challenge you to walk into any bar in NW CT and start spouting about raggies. You won't get a kiss.