Four Bowdoin students will spend the duration of the spring semester living in the Brunswick Inn following the College’s transition to remote learning.
Eileen Hornor, the owner of the Brunswick Inn, is letting students stay at a cost similar to the amount students were refunded for room and board. Hornor indicated that students are charged a portion of the room and board refund based on the number of nights they plan to stay.
Hornor said she first thought of hosting students at the Inn, which is located on Park Row between campus and downtown, when she heard that students were returning to live in off-campus housing. She added that hosting students would help with her business, given the significant decrease in reservations.
“I just knew I wasn’t going to have any business once Bowdoin closed,” Hornor said. “And there are no students here, no people interviewing for jobs, no athletic contests, no theater, no dance, no guest speakers. I mean it just goes on and on and my whole business essentially at this time of year revolves around the school, so I felt like I just needed to have some income.”
Hornor said that when she purchased the Brunswick Inn building 11 years ago, the College was her “built-in insurance plan.”
“The tourism industry has all these different ups and downs, and the vagaries of that market are difficult,” she said. “I thought ‘Well, Bowdoin College? They’ll never close.’ Never say never. I mean who ever would have thought.”
Hornor has already lost money as a result of the pandemic, as all of the reservations before July are canceled, and she had to return thousands of dollars of deposits. A group of conference attendees who were scheduled to stay at the Brunswick Inn during June canceled their reservations, which had included all of the Inn’s 16 rooms for eight nights. Hornor is skeptical about the weddings booked for the Inn’s busiest months from July to October.
Hornor was hoping to keep employing most of her staff through the Paycheck Protection Program, a Small Business Association (SBA) loan program that is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which was signed into law on March 27. The subsidies weren’t enough, and she still had to lay off all staff members.
“I figured out that the formula that they use to determine how much money I would get would not be nearly sufficient for me to stay afloat. So, I actually just let everybody go,” she said. “They can get these really good unemployment benefits now, which is also part of the bill. So now I’m relying on the SBA portion of the bill to hopefully come through and lend me enough money so that I can weather the storm.”
For a while, Hornor was able to keep her one full-time employee to help with disinfecting and cleaning, but she realized she could no longer afford to pay him.
“It’s just going to be me. So there will be long days,” she said.
Since Hornor is the sole proprietor and now sole employee at the Inn, she is responsible for managing finances as well as disinfecting common spaces, cleaning rooms, changing bed linens and cooking.
Hornor is thankful, though, that students are staying at the Inn, and she still has tasks to complete.
“It gives me a sense of purpose that feels good,” she said. “I’m glad that I’m busy. I like to feed people, and it makes it nice when college kids come in and they’re so hungry, and they’re so grateful, and they’re so happy to have a good hot meal and I think, ‘Okay, I can do my part.”
Matt Donnelly ’22, who is staying in a room with his brother Mike Donnelly ’20, said that Hornor notified his parents, who stay at the Inn when they visit Brunswick, about her idea. The Donnelly family resides in New Jersey, where concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak are especially great.
According to Matt Donnelly, though he and the other students are able to go on runs by the Androscoggin River, they mostly stay inside, keeping busy with schoolwork, video games, movies and board games.
Matt Donnelly and Jack Tarlton ’20, another student staying at the Inn, praised Hornor for being a “phenomenal cook.” Rather than eating in the dining room, the Bowdoin students have meals in the common space of the Carriage House, a separate building from the Inn’s main building where all current Brunswick Inn residents are living.
“There’s really nothing more I could ask for,” said Matt Donnelly. “I’ve had some of the best food that I’ve had in a long time, some really good company and very hospitable hosts, so we’re doing all right. We’re hanging in there.”
“We get two meals a day, and have a room to ourselves and [she will] change our linens on our bed once a week,” Tarlton said in a phone interview with the Orient. “It’s in downtown Brunswick and there are good hiking trails nearby, so it’s really the best. It was the best deal we would have gotten both financially and from what we’re getting out of it.”
Tarlton wanted to stay in the Inn because he went to boarding school and does not have many connections in his hometown in California.
“I wanted to maintain some feeling of community, and have people close by, even if it was only for social-distanced hikes or just seeing people in the park. But it was still really important to me to have to have friendly faces around,” Tarlton said.
As a bonus, the students met a local celebrity while staying in the Inn. Senator Angus King was self-isolating in a room right above the Donnellys’, and Matt Donnelly said he often hears King playing rock music. Chas Burton-Callegari ’20, another student staying in the Inn, lives next door to King and has also heard the music. However, because Hornor does not permit residents to eat in the dining room in order to preserve social distancing, the students rarely see King.
“King does not eat with us. He is isolating very aggressively, so I see him maybe once a day. And, otherwise, I just get to hear his music,” Matt Donnelly said.
Living across the hall from the Donnellys’ room, Tarlton said he also has limited interactions with King.
“I’ll be in my underwear in the common room, eating yogurt out of a tub, and he’ll just come down and be like ‘hey what’s up’ and I’m like ‘not much you know,’” Tarlton said. “So, it’s a weird time, [where you are] kind of thrust together with people you’d never expect to meet.”
To Matt Donnelly and Tarlton’s knowledge, King quarantined for about five days at the Inn after traveling. According to Matt Donnelly, King is returning home today. Hornor declined to comment about King’s stay in the Inn.
King’s birthday was on Tuesday, so the Bowdoin students and Hornor helped him celebrate.
“We all caught him on his way back from a walk with his wife and sang for him as Eileen gave him the cake,” Matt Donnelly said. “[It was] kind of a crazy situation, but it was awesome.”
Hornor said she is open to more students staying in the Inn, but acknowledged that doing so in just 16 rooms, while maintaining social distancing recommendations, would be difficult. She has been meeting with her accountant, working on loan applications and is determined to prevent the Inn from closing.
“I could keep people separated enough to keep them safe, but it’s hard. I mean it’s hard to keep people safe. I wash my hands raw because I don’t want to get any of the people who are here sick, and I don’t want to go home and get my family sick,” she said. “If there are more people here, there’s just more potential infection and exposure. So I would have to brace myself for that.”
Despite everything, Hornor is trying to stay positive.
“I’ve owned this business for 11 years, and I’m not giving up. And, you know, I’ve got to keep this going somehow.”