North Country
4:50 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

A Plan To Move Forward With The Motels And Fun Of The Past

One might think that the mom-and-pop motels of the 50’s and 60’s have all been replaced by cookie-cutter nationwide chains.

But some vintage lodgings in New Hampshire have found a way to prosper.

And now there’s an effort to push a plan to help them do even better.

We can’t blame Norman Bates for the decline of the mom-and-pop motels.

Screechy music from the shower scene in “Psycho.”

The homicidal loony who stabs Janet Leigh to death while she showers in the 1960 movie “Psycho” probably kept a lot of people out of showers - while putting in a good word for mothers.

 “She might have fooled me, but she didn’t fool my mother.”

But he didn’t kill the motels.

The real villain is the interstate highway system.

Sound of a car zooming past

Mark Okrant is a Plymouth State University professor who specializes in the tourism industry.

He’s also the author of a new e-book:

No Vacancy: The Rise, Demise and Reprise of America’s Motels.”

Standing in the parking lot of a closed motel in Lincoln Okrant looks out at Route 3.

“Route 3 is something of a living history of tourism.”

Back in the 50’s Route 3 was the major route going north. Lined with motels and motor courts.

Those were the days when families toured, says Okrant.

They were looking around, taking their time and stopping in places that looked interesting.

 “But all that changed with the interstate because then people made the decision ‘I want to get where I am going.’”

“It was very much of a death knell to many places.”

“More than three quarters of the properties that were in the existence in the United States in 1960 are gone.”

But Okrant says some motels have managed to thrive using what amounts to vintage charm.

And Okrant and tourism officials are hoping to crank up a program designed to help motels and retro-attractions – such as diners and drive-ins - do better.

It’s called the Retro Tour and it was started in 2009 by the state’s department of tourism.

Okrant says the motels the Retro Tour is designed to help have some classic features.

One is a place to park a car right outside the door.

There’s also something fun in front such as a swimming pool.

And they are being run by an owner – not an employee - who provides individual attention.

Take the Profile Deluxe Motel in Twin Mountain.

“This is a traditional, single-story motel, probably mid-50’s in construction.”

The motel is run by the owner – Jim Covey - who provides individual attention.

“Well, you know, I think the personal connection we make with people goes really far because I spend a lot of time explaining to people and showing them on maps what we have to offer in this area. I get in-depth with them and tell them the behind-the-scenes of how things came about.”

The rooms have modern touches like wi-fi but there is still plenty of the 1950’s to go around.

Our rooms have been updated over time, but you will still find a Ming-green tub and toilet and sink.”

Kelly Mcdonough and his family are taking pictures in front of the sign for the Mount Coolidge, another 60’s era motel in Lincoln.

 “When we go to stay places we like to stay in places that have more of the character of the area that we are going to.”

The Coolidge is owned by Vicki and Kevin Riley, who thinks many of his customers are attracted by a lingering fascination with yesteryear.

 “It is like looking at antique cars. People love looking at old cars. It is the same thing with us. They love an old motel, they love old buildings. We all have nostalgia. We are all hooked on it, I think.”

There are chairs outside each room - as well as around the back overlooking the Pemi river.

“Nothing thrills me more than to see a couple of guests that have never met each other before sitting out in the evening maybe having a cocktail and conversing with each other.”

Visitors to the Coolidge and Profile Deluxe seem to be enjoying the experience. Based on strong reviews both were rated by TripAdvisor.com as worthy of a 2012 Traveler’s Choice award.

Both motels are also on the Retro Tour list, which Riley didn’t know about.

The Retro Tour is on the tourism web site but it is hardly prominent. It is listed under “culture itineraries.”  

But tourism officials say it is generating interest anyway.

During the first half of the year the Retro Tour has received about 65,000 hits, ranking it third among nine itineraries listed.

Mark Okrant says he found a similar program worked well in other states along Route 66.

And he thinks there is plenty of untapped potential in New Hampshire.

“There is a ready market. All we need to do is present the proper package in the proper manner and people will come.”

He says those people range from Baby Boomers to European tourists.

To try and crank up the Retro Tour Okrant has scheduled a meeting October 17 at Plymouth State University for the motels and attractions to see how they might all work together.