The story of Eloise, a little girl who lives in a New York City hotel in the eponymous book series, was Emily Glick’s favorite as a child.
“When I was a little girl, my mom was a travel agent, so we got to stay at great places at a discount, because travel agents really got wined and dined in that era,” she said. “And then my maternal grandmother and grandfather actually ran an inn in Bolton Valley, Vermont. It’s funny how long it took me to make the connection that inn-keeping is in my roots.”
Glick and Santiago Ripley are the newest owners of the Applewood Inn and Spa in Guerneville and therefore stewards of the nearly 100-year-old Belden House, a historic local landmark built in 1922.
Discouraged by the dismal hospitality scene in San Francisco, Glick said she began to search for “a chance to keep hospitality a hearty, robust part of my life” as a hotelier when Ripley’s wife told Glick’s husband, longtime colleagues and friends, that working in hospitality was a “lifelong dream” of Ripley’s.
According to Glick, Ripley left the tech industry not long ago and wanted to return to customer service, having once managed a bookstore in Rhode Island and found various gigs to keep hospitality a part of his own life. Glick herself brings 14 years of experience with Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, including working as general manager of the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel in San Francisco, she said.
“Yeah, there was a lot of serendipity into how it fell into place because without a strong business partner, I never would have been crazy enough to tackle a 19-room property,” she said.
Glick called the Applewood Inn and Spa somewhat of an outlier among the properties she looked at, but it won out as a luxury location with the highest room count in their range. It wasn’t the Applewood Inn’s first time on the market when they bought it for a little over $4 million, she said, adding it had fallen out of escrow around February or March when COVID-19 emerged locally.
“We thought this might all just be our shot,” Glick said, though she said the final sale increased a bit because she and Ripley had to pay off the second half of the solar panels installed on the property.
The Applewood Inn and Spa may have its new name in about a month and will undergo renovations through May, Glick said. Major elements remain on the 5.5 acres, like the pool, electric vehicle charging stations, a garden and of course, the Spanish Colonial Revival house built by Guerneville banker Ralph Belden.
“Long story short, we’re not doing a lot of structural stuff or moving around walls and
building buildings. Instead, we’re kind of appreciating what’s here and then building inwards,” Glick said.
Glick and Ripley have a loaned $2 million total construction budget to work with through Boston Private and the U.S. Small Business Administration, or about $100,000 per room in which she envisions new furniture, flooring, paint, vanities, drapery, toilets, sinks and tile bathrooms, she said.
She said guests will hopefully have a different arrival experience when the inn reopens this summer, where “instead of guests kind of hunting their way around the property, looking for where they check in,” the guests can check in near the parking area and, knock on wood, browse local Sonoma County retail.
Glick said there were ideas of offering biscuits and products like locally-made candles or clothing. “Who knows, the sky’s the limit for the mercantile space. And then outdoor fire pits — and I say that very cautiously, of course, in Sonoma County,” she said.
“It will be the opportunity to gather outdoors in the summer again, on the other side of the pandemic. So, we want outdoor lawn games and we want a great new set of furniture outside of the pool, and new landscaping everywhere,” she said, to beautify the property and protect against fires.
Currently, Glick said she and Ripley guide the renovations conducted through EDG Interior Architecture + Design and Terra Nova Industries. “But then our day-to-day is focused more on ‘How are we preparing to open?” she said. Glick has high hopes for the hotel, “and that involves everything from developing a website, figuring out content, like photoshoot, logo, all of that there.”
She said that they also need to prepare a benefit plan, a payroll system and training materials ahead of hiring around 15 employees as a central team, on-call staff for busy days during harvest season and a third manager so the hotel is covered at all times.
What becomes of the Applewood Inn’s restaurant capacity may affect staffing, she said, noting the pandemic has unfortunately made many talented chefs available for work. Glick and Ripley are considering an “upscale deli concept” at the front desk and hope to serve breakfast for a fee in the historic Belden House, she said.
The two are also sketching out ideas for all-day dining and a dinner option, she said, though feasibility is a priority as first time hoteliers on their own.
The spa is also going to feel different, she said.
“Spa was always a bit of an overstatement here because it was sort of just one massage room, and we think we can do better things with that space, which is the likely location for the front desk and retail shop area,” Glick said. They plan to offer in-room massage treatments as well as a more nature-oriented experience on an outdoor pavilion, poolside or in a yurt, she said.
In a time when the hospitality industry wilts under the pandemic, Glick said she knows they may still need to prepare COVID-19 protocols for their planned summer reopening, and that she has spent the past year in the thick of such protocols, ending her time as general manager of the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel this January. She said she believes hospitality “will rise again,” probably in Sonoma County and other major enduring destinations first.
“It’s optimistic and bright and exciting and it’s something positive that I call my COVID silver lining because I truly believe that the hotel would have been well beyond my grasp if the market had been strong,” she said.
“And maybe we’ll all still be wearing masks. But hopefully we’ll be seeing each other’s smiles by then.”
Editor's note: This article was edited to reflect the correct build date for Belden House. While the Sonoma County website's Historic Landmarks webpage states Belden House was built in 1822, Sonoma County Historical Records Commissioner and Sonoma County Genealogical Society President Steven Lovejoy said that the building was built in 1922.