Lenox's oldest building changing hands as Village Inn's new owners prep extensive renovation

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LENOX — The Village Inn, the town's oldest building dating from 1771 as a pre-Revolutionary War stagecoach stopover for travelers seeking sustenance and lodging, has new owners.

The 32-room inn was bought by the newly formed Church Street Inn LLC last week and has undergone preliminary renovations ahead of the prime summer tourism season, according to the company's Managing Member Chris Frevert, who's based near Fort Collins, Colo.

The real estate transaction for $850,000 was recorded at the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds in Pittsfield on June 10. In addition to the guest rooms, the inn has a 60-seat restaurant previously known as Rumplestiltzkin's (named for the fairytale character), which has been dormant for several years, a basement pub formerly known as Rumpy's, and a private 35-car parking lot.

The property, purchased by Billy and Pat Soto's Bennington Bear Inc., for $2.1 million in 2004, went on the market in April 2015 with an initial asking price of $1.3 million or the best offer. The town assesses the value of the site at 16 Church St. at $1,920,000.

The new owners plan to retain the name Village Inn, at least for now. If they decide to rebrand it in the future, it would be called the Church Street Inn.

Church Street Inn LLC was formed for the specific purpose of acquiring The Village Inn, Frevert told The Eagle via email. The seller, Billy Soto, declined comment. He was represented by James Nugent of TKG Real Estate and Lori Robbins of Heller and Robbins acted as legal counsel for the buyer.

The new company is owned by two long-acquainted couples. Chris and Dawn Frevert purchased their first hotel property in 2016 and sold it last June "to search for a more intimate property in New England with our friends, Chris and Jane Serafin," Chris Frevert explained.

"Our journey took us from Cape Cod to the White Mountains of New Hampshire where we were days away from completing a transaction when the sellers had a change of heart," he said. "Undeterred, we picked up the search again and came across The Village Inn. One visit to Lenox and we were sold."

The inn is open for business as usual this summer, with some upgrades already completed — new bedding and linens, new TVs, and an improved breakfast service.

According to Frevert, more extensive renovations will begin late this summer, with roofing, painting and landscaping, "as well as other improvements that should not only enhance the guest experience but also the visual appeal of this historic property for the people of Lenox as well."

Later this year, additional interior upgrades will include new paint, carpet, wallpaper and lighting, as well as new furniture in the common areas and guest rooms.

"So as to not distance ourselves from the charm of the property, we will sprinkle in unique as well as antique furnishings in every room," Frevert said.

The restaurant and tavern will also receive updates and reopen to the public in the near future, he added.

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"We're excited to be a part of the Lenox business community and hope to give our guests a reason to come back to the town year after year," Frevert said.

Although he and his wife will continue to reside north of Denver for the next several years while his two children are in school, Frevert said he intends to be an active owner, visiting the property frequently. Key local staff members include General Manager Alan Goldstein, who has a lengthy career in hospitality, food and beverage management, and Dean Pope, the front desk manager held over from the Soto ownership.

After two years on the market with no takers, an auction for the 19,500-square-foot property was held in mid-June 2017, but did not attract any buyers after the bidding opened at $600,000. At the time, Billy Soto acknowledged that since the inn needed "tender loving care, we have to find someone who thinks this place is worth it."

The inn and tavern was run by early settler John Whitlock in a home he built in 1771, providing lodging and victuals for weary travelers on the Boston to Albany stagecoach route, according to the Lenox Historical Commission.

The commission's survey for the statewide Historical Commission showed that the John Whitlock House, a Colonial Revival-style building that began as a simple two-room farmhouse, has been significantly altered and enlarged many times, notably "the late-Victorian renovations that are the most clearly visible elements of the structure."

Whitlock's farmlands occupied much of what became Lenox Village, the commission's report stated.

"In the late 1770s, Whitlock opened his home as an inn following the pattern of many Berkshire householders who supplemented their farming income by providing lodging for stagecoach travelers," the commission wrote.

By 1800, Whitlock sold off the farmland for what was to become Church Street, which was purchased by the town in 1815. The house and lot were sold for $105 to Lemuel Parsons in 1821, a wagon-maker who used it as a private home. Other individual homeowners followed.

The Graham Root Inn, better known as The Grey House, opened in 1890 after the house was enlarged by attaching two barns. Subsequent owners include Mrs. E. Spenser, who purchased the site in 1904, followed by the estate of Josephine Farnham; Cameron Marshall; the George Bull family and in 1970, Richard and Marie Judd, who began operating it as the Village Inn. Clifford Rudisill and Ray Wilson owned it from 1981 to 2004, when it was sold to the Sotos.

Billy Soto, a former financier and insurance broker, had entered the hospitality industry in 1998 by purchasing the long-established Kirkside Motor Lodge in Bennington, Vt., which he sold in 2014.

Among the Lenox inns currently for sale, according to industry online sources, are the Gateways Inn, offered at $2,995,000, Brook Farm Inn, with an asking price of $1,650,000 and The Summer White House, an historic inn on Main Street, with a $799,000 asking price.

Commenting on the local bed-and-breakfast market, Gateways Inn co-owner Eiran Gazit said that he is "exasperated from the lack of support and backing from the town as a major reason for deciding to sell. The town makes zero efforts to market itself as a destination in a narrow-minded view that people come anyway. There is no economic development activity despite the lodging and food taxes."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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