A Story About A Cop And Ex-Wife And A Town Hello From Nova Scotia – The Lunenburg Inn – One Couple’s Unique (Pre) Retirement Story

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Hello From Nova Scotia – The Lunenburg Inn – One Couple’s Unique (Pre) Retirement Story

The day started great: A hearty and healthy breakfast at the Lunenburg Inn was a great preparation for a full day of discovery. On a bright and sunny morning I headed out and took a walking tour through Lunenburg, a quaint and picturesque town on Nova Scotia’s south coast whose unique architectural heritage has earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. I rounded off my local explorations with a visit to the famous Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, a famous museum celebrating Nova Scotia’s maritime heritage.

I had big plans for today: a scenic drive along the Lighthouse Trail through picturesque communities like Mahone Bay and Peggy’s Cove to my final destination for today: Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia. But before saying goodbye to this charming town, I wanted to know a little more about the hospitality entrepreneurs who run the Lunenburg Inn. I’m always interested in the people behind the destination, because people are at the heart of any hospitality experience.

So with my suitcase packed and safely tucked away in the car, I sat down with Don and Gail Wallace, owners of the Lunenburg Inn, to learn more about their personal story. Don began by telling me that he had spent 33 years in the warehousing and transportation business with a Toronto-based company, holding the title of vice president toward the end of his tenure. He felt it was time to make a significant change in his life, so he and Gail sat down to discuss what options they might have. They talked about downsizing their home and looking at a second career they could start together. They wanted to get away from the Toronto area and find a place where they would be able to retire. So they started looking further afield.

One day in February 1995 they noticed an ad in the Financial Post for a place called the “Lunenburg Inn.” It struck a chord as they both dreamed of retiring by the sea. So Don picked up the phone and contacted the real estate broker. He drove to Halifax one Sunday morning in February and fell in love with Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Don added that Lunenburg wasn’t as beautiful as it is today, but he still recognized the city’s potential. He really liked the property a lot, although it would need a lot of work. So he calls Gail to share his positive impressions and suggests that they both visit the inn in Lunenburg the following weekend. All the necessary professional contacts were initiated: the bank’s mortgage officer, the building inspector, the real estate agent and the lawyer who would handle the transaction. Don and his wife talked about the idea with their grown children. There was a meeting with the building inspector the following Sunday afternoon, then Don prepared the proposal. The mortgage was approved Monday morning, and shortly after lunch Don gave the realtor a check for their retirement plan: the Lunenburg Inn. Shortly after returning to Toronto he received a call from his realtor that they would now be the proud owners of an inn as of May 1, 1995.

Ironically, Don had to go on a business trip to Vancouver the day this real estate transaction was completed, and he and his colleague went out after work and celebrated with a bottle of wine. It wasn’t until a few months later that his colleague learned that Don had a real reason to celebrate on this day: the start of his second career.

Back in Toronto Don wrote a letter of resignation to his company president who was very surprised because he and most people in the company had assumed that Don was a “lifer”, meaning he would spend the rest of his career with the company. Don has given 6 months’ notice and will step down as vice-president at the end of August. This gave the couple enough time to organize a garage sale to get rid of unwanted furniture in Toronto. Their van left at 5 a.m. on April 28, packing their belongings and arriving in Lunenburg on April 30. Don booked a two-week vacation and his son came to spend his summer in Lunenburg—a perfect arrangement since Don still had to wrap up. His last few months with his company in Toronto.

So in May, Gail and their son Drew opened the bed and breakfast. Their daughter came to join them in July, having just finished her senior year of high school and starting a degree at Wilfred Laurier University in September. Don was able to leave his position as a replacement was hired in late July. So on August 1 the whole family gathered in Lunenburg.

The Lunenburg Inn was furnished when Don and Gail bought it, but the owners took personal pieces that were used in the inn. The living room was sparse and some rooms were missing chairs and tables. So for the first few weeks, Gail and her son Drew began a nightly routine of moving furniture: they had to completely compliment the rooms they rented for the night with the leftover furniture to decorate the living room for that night. This means that pieces of furniture have to be constantly moved from room to room. They decided to leave their Toronto-area furnished home while Don still lived there to improve the chances of selling it. It only sold in late July (with a mid-August closing) and Don had the moving company pack everything up the last week of July. The furniture arrived in Lunenburg in mid-August, and upon its arrival they had a fully furnished living room without moving the night furniture.

The Lunenburg Inn was an abandoned building, so it needed a lot of work. From 1924 to 1979 it was the “Hillside Hotel”, a 13-room hotel (with a bathroom!) next to the town’s train station. Meanwhile, train service to Lunenburg has been shut down for years. The property was abandoned for a few weeks just before it was purchased by the previous owners in 1988. When Don and Gail purchased the property in 1995 the building was very tired and needed a complete remodel and upgrade, including furnishings. This is up to a 4 1/2 star property.

During their first winter in 1995, Gail stripped every piece of furniture and painstakingly refinished it. All couches and armchairs were reupholstered. Don taught himself how to fix plasterwork in this historic building, and in the dining room the couple removed nine layers of wallpaper and four layers of paint, which had accumulated over the years since the building was built in 1893. Carpets were ripped out and replaced, floors were refinished. All rooms have been remodeled at least three times in the last 11 years. Don feels very strongly that a bed and breakfast should never look tired. His goal was to make the Lunenburg Inn a warm, comfortable place with upscale features.

Now the Lunenburg Inn is in its 12th season and it’s still holding up well. Don and Gail are already ready to start their real retirement. Don told me that about 40% of bed and breakfast owners do not reopen after their third season, another 40% of B&B owners close their business after 6 years. Only 5% of B&B owners make it to the 10-year mark. Don added that running the Lunenburg Inn was “his second and final career,” and that he and Gail had been committed for 10 years. Now 11 years later, they are ready to take a well-deserved retirement.

But the industrious couple didn’t stop at owning B&Bs: From 1997 to late 2002 they also owned an M&M meat shop franchise that meant Gail ran the retail business while Don ran the bed and breakfast with some hired help. Gail was in the shop every day from 9am to 6pm and Don managed the orders and accounting for the butcher shop in addition to his duties at the tavern.

Today, the couple focuses solely on the Lunenburg Inn. Their day begins at 6 a.m. when fresh muffins are baked for the 19 breakfast guests. Guests can come for breakfast as per their schedule Don and Gail put a lot of effort into preparing a healthy, filling and attractively prepared breakfast that always includes plenty of fresh fruit. They operate on a 7-day rotation for breakfast so that none of the guests get bored of being served the same meal twice in a row.

Breakfast is from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and a kitchen helper handles plate layout, coffee and toast. Two housekeepers help with maintenance and cleaning, and all of the inn’s laundry is handled in-house. The Lunenburg Inn is open from early May to late October. Don and Gail make a promise that one of them will always sleep in the house while the B&B is open. Guests may always have potential needs and it is important to have a competent contact person on site.

Don and Gail are proud of the fact that the Lunenburg Inn was Lunenburg’s first 4.5 star property, a property that combines the “warmth of home” with Victorian charm. 75% of their business is derived from repeat customers and referrals, a testament to their commitment to an outstanding hospitality experience.

Personally, they live in a separate private apartment on the lower level of the inn, and during the winter season they like to spend time with their children and visit South Carolina for a few weeks. There’s always something to do around the inn, and winter is the perfect time to redecorate or upgrade. Dawn likes to curl up about four to five mornings a week during the winter.

The Lunenburg Inn is currently listed for sale. Neither Don nor Gail are in a rush to sell the property, and they realize it’s going to take a special buyer who is interested in running the inn. Sometimes it can take three to five years to sell such properties. Don and Gail have indicated that once the inn is sold, they will stay in Lunenburg and buy a simple family home. They enjoy the climate here: summers are less hot and humid than in Ontario, and there is less snow and rain. Gail added that he didn’t even need winter boots during his first four years in Lunenburg. And the waterfalls are so beautiful in this quaint community.

I realized that here was a couple who had made some very strategic, well thought out decisions about their retirement. They knew exactly where they were going and what their next move was going to be. Few of us are lucky enough to have such a clear idea of ​​where life is taking us. With these thoughts in mind I thanked Don and Gail for their warm hospitality, and set off to continue my journey along Halifax’s Lighthouse Trail.

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