Words can win you an inn

SWAN’S ISLAND — After running the Harbor Watch Inn for a little more than two years, Jennifer Helman and Dale Joyce have decided they want to “give” it to someone who has always dreamed of running their own motel on an island.

“We could have just put the motel on the market, like most normal people would do,” said Helman, about the four-room business. “We wanted to go a non-traditional way.”

Those who are interested are being asked to answer a few questions and submit a 350-word essay and $99 into the Win Our Inn contest going until March 31. A winner will be selected and announced in mid-May with the property transferred a short time later. There is no limit to the number of entries allowed per person.

At this point, there have not been a lot of submissions but at least 1,000 people are following the progression of the contest for updates and information.

“In the end, the owner will get a viable, profitable business,” said Helman, adding the winner will also get $25,000 towards owning and operating the four-room motel. “We do need about 5,000 entries to make it viable. If we’re not close enough on the 31st, we also have the right to extend.”

According to a press release regarding the contest, the inn is the only motel on Swan’s Island that has been in constant operation since the mid-1980s. In it are two standard motel rooms and two larger rooms that include full kitchens and views of the harbor.

“We are not waterfront,” said Helman regarding the business located in the Mintern section of Swan’s Island. “We have the view but we don’t pay for it.”

In addition, the building has a furnished year-round apartment on the top floor that is currently occupied.

While the majority of visitors come to the island during the summer season, the inn operates year-round.

“We keep it open primarily to help the people on the island,” said Helman, specifically contractors coming out to work and people attending town meeting.

There are specific criteria the judges are looking for in the submitted essays, one is having a background of running a business. But, more importantly, there is a special personality trait needed for the new owners to address the biggest challenge to owning and operating this inn.

“Whether they have the personality to live on an island,” said Helman. “It takes a very special person to live out here.”

Neither Helman nor her husband is judging the contest. They’ve hired two retired schoolteachers with deep roots on the island to head the judging panel. So far, there has been interest for the contest from people as far reaching as Canada, the Middle East and California.

“There have been a number of these types of contests,” said Helman, who with her husband entered one for a treehouse resort in Western Maine last fall to experience the process. “Some are extremely successful and some are not.”

When Helman and Joyce moved to Swan’s Island several years ago, they did so for Joyce’s photography business. After purchasing the inn, the hospitality business became more of a focal point for the couple and their two children. All members of the family chip in to take care of the inn. They also have one contracted employee who does the cleaning.

“We’re definitely the only true motel on the island,” said Helman, naming a bed and breakfast and other room rentals. There are also a number of properties are rented through an agency like Airbnb.

“Most of them require a week [stay],” Helman added. “That’s the other advantage to ours is you can stay for one night.”

Once the inn changes hands in ownership, the couple will return to focusing on Joyce’s business. They intend to be nearby to help the new owners adjust.

“We have our own house,” said Helman. “We’re not going anywhere … We don’t know if this is going to work. We may be running the motel this summer.”

To find out more, go to WinOurInn.com.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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