This Business Has Been Fiercely Independent Since 1776

When you step right inside the Griswold Inn, in Essex, Conn., it feels as though you’re stepping back in its history. In the past to the American Revolution, actually.

Exterior of The Griswold Inn

Just beyond the reception desk, your eyes adapt to a candlight room. Called the “Tap Room,” it’s unlike most rooms you’ve probably experienced. First, you’ll spot the arched, plaster ceiling, created from crushed oyster shells and horsehair. It includes a patina that could only have already been created by a long time of cigar smoke and tall tales. Portraits of ancient sea-going vessels line the walls. The large, potbellied stove in the guts provides room a warm, especially inviting atmosphere. Why, yes, I’ll have a glass or two at the bar.

Standing in the Tap Room, you’d probably never reckon that it used to be always a local schoolhouse back 1730. Works out, the Griswold Inn opened for business in 1776 — the entire year the American colonies declared independence from England — and has been open since. The property includes nearly 10 historic structures housing 33 resort rooms, dining operations, various retail businesses and a vast assortment of maritime paintings by artists including Norman Rockwell, Currier and Ives, amongst others.

The "Tap Room" at the Gris

The owners say it’s the oldest continuously operating inn in the U.S. That’s 238 years functioning.

Nowadays, the Griswold Inn — often described simply as “the Gris” — is owned by the Paul family, who purchased the business enterprise in 1995. The inn has been family-owned and operated since its inception. For the Pauls, looking after this important historic brand and remaining independently owned is key to who they are as entrepreneurs.

How One Family Business Stays Independent

“No other career can prepare you for the demands of owning a hospitality business that’s open 24 hours per day, 364 days a year,” says Geoff Paul, co-owner and co-innkeeper of the Gris. Paul was raised in Essex along with his brothers and co-owners Greg and Doug. The inn can be co-owned and operated by Doug’s wife, Joan.

“We must be ready every day to supply our customers with the historic connection with a geniune American inn, yet this should be accomplished while providing modern conveniences that folks have come to anticipate,” says Paul, who’s 53. “All of this in buildings that are a lot more than 200-years-old, which means we must easily fit into necessary capital projects, and there are many, in a manner that isn’t disruptive to the guest experience.”

An interactive history of the Griswold Inn:

In the spirit of the July 4 holiday, we asked Paul about his four biggest known reasons for staying independent. Here’s what he previously to state:

1. A fierce desire to accomplish things their own way — for the long term. You may have a five-year plan. Maybe a good 10-year plan. Heck, a few of you may operate your businesses quarter to quarter. The owners of the Griswold Inn have a 100-year plan.

Basically, that is their business, dammit, and it’s likely to stay that way.

“We make decisions predicated on what we think is most beneficial for the prosperity of the business in to the next century,” Paul says. “Yes, we carefully watch food costs and other expenses over the short-term and make an effort to make adjustments where sensible. But we’ve a particular responsibility to look after this institution in order that future generations can experience a thing that is fast disappearing from our nation’s landscape.”

Independent inns are gobbled up by larger companies constantly. The homogenization of the hotel and dining experience in the U.S. is something the Paul family fiercely really wants to avoid with the Griswold Inn.

“Of course, it really is easier, and more profitable, to perform a business where all your resort rooms are identical,” Paul says. “This makes your business scalable, however in the procedure eliminates character from the guest experience. Fortunately, we think there will be some people who would like the initial and special experience a place just like the ‘Gris’ provides and we invest to be certain we it’s still here for them.”

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2. A passion for authenticity. If you have a distinctive, historic and relatively well-known brand, the very last thing you’d want is to market out to a more substantial company that could likely disregard these distinctive selling points.

“It will be tempting for a corporate owner to exploit [our] brand and market all types of merchandise,” Paul says. “It really is tempting to us also, but we have become careful.”

The Paul family did open the Griswold Inn — Goods & Curiosities branded merchandise shop this year 2010. They sell reproductions from their art collection, housewares, branded clothing, history books and unique items created by regional artists. Paul says the shop makes up about not even half of the inn’s overall revenues. He sees merchandise sales growing to about 15 percent, however, not a lot more.

The inn’s expansive maritime art collection

“If we over exploit the brand we can be more of a souvenir or merchandising business and the initial experience we want to preserve only will disappear,” he says.

3. Building and maintaining community. Quite literally, the Griswold Inn has been the guts of the Essex community (and arguably the low Connecticut Valley) for pretty much 240 years. Its customers, employees and vendors have made their surviving in the region. They are as focused on the Gris as the Gris and its own owners are to them, Paul says.

“Most of these folks come back every year with their children and their grandchildren. We realize these families. They are our customers and friends.

“The ancient art of ‘innkeeping’ requires personality and the non-public touch,” he adds. “That’s hard for a corporate owner to supply.”

4. Preserving local and national history. Unlike other businesses that fake their “charm” or history with reproduction goods, everything you see in the Griswold Inn may be the real deal. The assortment of original, museum quality maritime paintings and even a few of the infrastructure and equipment are nearly as old as the inn itself. As entrepreneurs, the Paul family has managed to get their business to preserve the annals that they own.

“It is critical to who we are,” Paul says. “Your time and effort and expense we incur to preserve this experience for future generations isn’t something a big organization would do. This involves the passion and pride that only an unbiased owner will probably have.”


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