WILMINGTON — A brighter future is being planned for a hotel in disrepair on Route 9.
The owners of Ratu’s Liquor & Market in Wilmington announced late last month they had purchased Horizon Inn.
“Never stop dreaming!!!” they wrote on Facebook. “To say it needs an overhaul is an understatement, but we, along with a couple of local partners are up for the challenge!!! Yes, eventually it’ll become an inn again, but we have big visions for our community on the 11.8 acres.”
Jennifer Betit-Engel and Christian Engel, the couple who own Ratu’s, bought the Horizon Inn building and will be forming a limited liability corporation with local contractors Rico Morehead and Moose Maher to operate the business. Their plan is to renovate the first 20 of about 27 rooms to Airbnb or offer as short-term rentals to generate revenue to renovate the other side of the hotel.
The inn formerly housed employees of the members-only ski resort Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain under the prior ownership. After the building sat vacant during a foreclosure process, damages totaling about $12,500 were reported by the court-appointed receiver last year.
Members now own the club, and the ski resort is set to reopen this winter. Town records show Hermitage Members Club Inc. sold the inn to the couple for $197,192. In 2015, Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Company purchased the property from Key Bank National for $545,000.
Betit-Engel described every copper pipe being stolen and pulled out so close to hot water heaters and boilers that the appliances needed to be thrown away, although their age also played a factor. She said roof damages required the couple to buy the property instead of getting a bank loan.
The project will include creating a handicap-accessible bathroom off the restaurant and making the pool accessible as well. Two bedroom suites on the backside of the building also will be handicap accessible.
Another goal is to amend a wastewater permit, which currently allows a 50-seat restaurant inside to only serve guests of the inn, so the restaurant could be open to the public. The idea ultimately is to host birthday parties, teen nights and other family-oriented activities including music festivals, movie nights and campfires.
Once both sides of the building are open, the group wants to utilize a trail system behind the property. They’re talking about putting in ziplines and climbing structures.
Betit-Engel said she and her husband are “all about paying a livable wage.” Their employees will receive at least $15 an hour.
The hope later is to have the Moover buses stop at the Horizon Inn again. Betit-Engel said the buses could transport guests to or from local establishments.
“We’re just trying to be creative with the property and make it profitable for everyone in the community,” she said.
The couple bought Ratu’s in downtown Wilmington in 2013, and last year they purchased the neighboring building formerly home to Zoar Outdoor. They combined the two buildings and expanded their offerings.
A garage is now a smoke shop for those 21 and older. As the state recently approved retail cannabis sales, a marijuana contract will be sought later for that area. Another section is for CBD or cannabidiol products. Shoes and lifestyle products also are available.
Betit-Engel said the couple looks for companies that are environmentally conscious. They have new items coming in every week.
Some local companies are featured, with all the profit going back to them. The “Valley Vibes” section is where customers can pick up apparel from different restaurants.
A major reason cited for buying the inn had to do with the economic benefit. Betit-Engel said she and her husband want to ensure the strength of the community, and they believe having more rooms available for tourists and offering livable wages will help in that effort.
Inspiration also comes in the form of memories shared by people who had once worked at the inn or had a family member who did.
“It just keeps us working 15, 16 hours a day,” Betit-Engel said, “to bring back the joy it brought the community.”
She grew up in Whitingham and met her husband while getting her master’s degree in Seattle. He was born in New York but spent a lot of his life in Fiji and Hawaii. He moved to Seattle around 2005.
“He was very adamant about being family oriented and he wanted to live in the states,” Betit-Engel said. “He was like, ‘We’re moving to Vermont.’”
She said they always have reggae music playing. Their website can be found at loc8nearme.com/vermont/wilmington/ratus-liquor-and-market/3811844.