Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 22, 2016
New owners at Inn on the Harbor already ‘amazed’ with community
by Monique Labbe
After decades of owning the Inn on the Harbor, Christina Shipps has put the business in the hands of Jay Brown and Dana Durst.
The couple, who came to Stonington from Pittsburgh, Pa., has only been running the inn for a few short weeks; however, they said they are already amazed with the community.
“We come out here in the morning and watch the boats go out and it’s just fascinating,” said Durst while sitting on the back deck of the inn Monday, September 26. “And everybody in town has just been so supportive and friendly and willing to help with anything we need.”
Durst and Brown do not have any prior experience with the hotel business, coming from much different career backgrounds. Durst is a former educator and spent some time teaching at the University of Pittsburgh with a background in early childhood development. Brown spent much of the last few decades as a photo journalist, documenting concerts for bands who were on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream.
“I shot Nirvana before they even put a record out. I’ve done The Black Keys and The White Stripes,” he said. “But eventually I thought it was time to slow down and make a career change.”
Durst had been feeling the same itch to make a change, so the couple started looking into bed and breakfasts about three years ago.
“We knew we wanted to be in the mid-coast area, we knew we wanted to be part of a thriving community,” said Durst. “We sort of had this idea about where we wanted to be.”
They hired a broker to help them find what they were looking for, and about a year and a half ago that broker suggested they look into the Inn on the Harbor property. The couple had reservations given the remote location of the town; however, after much prompting from their broker, they finally decided this past April to take a trip to Stonington.
“I think our broker knew us better than we knew ourselves at that point,” said Durst with a chuckle.
Brown and Durst met with Shipps late one afternoon and talked about all of the highs and lows of owning the inn and living in the community. It was that conversation, Durst said, that sold them on purchasing the property.
“We were sold right then, it was that quick,” she said. “The community appeal was exactly what we were looking for.”
Despite neither of them having any background in the business, both said that the transition has been relatively smooth. They credit that to the staff they have inherited, and the reputation Shipps left them.
“Our staff is amazing,” said Brown. “They all work so hard, and most of them are local so they’ve actually been teaching us things.”
“Because of what [Shipps] was able to do here, we have a lot of repeat customers who have already made it a point to welcome us and wish us good luck, but they also give us a history of this place that we wouldn’t know otherwise,” added Durst.
While the couple does not plan on making too many changes to the inn, Brown said there are a few things that need attention, the first of which being the back deck.
“There are things that need to be replaced, starting with that, and then we’re hoping to get our liquor license in the spring and serve small plates for guests and their guests,” he said. “We want to keep it specific to people staying here.”
The couple also plans on sourcing food from local farmers as much as possible, as they are both interested in the idea of businesses working together to support one another.
Durst said that the best part about her new career and location has been the people, and she looks forward to continuing that as guests come in and she gets to know people in the community.
For Brown, it’s the lobster.
“I’ve eaten more lobster in the last two weeks than I ever have in my life,” he said. “This area is amazing.”