Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 9, 2018
Deer Isle Hostel celebrates a decade of homesteading
The Deer Isle Hostel is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Pictured, Deer Isle Hostel owners Dennis Carter and Anneli Carter-Sundqvist celebrating the 10th year of their business being in operation.
by Monique Labbe
The Deer Isle Hostel turns 10 this year, and after a decade of operating the seasonal business, owners Dennis Carter and Anneli Carter-Sundqvist still get excited about each summer.
“I think we love what we do, and we love what the hostel has become,” said Carter-Sundqvist. “The season is about 100 days, and then we go back to our normal lives. I think it’s just enough that while we’re tired at the end of the season, we still look forward to the next one.”
The couple essentially lives off the grid, operating the entire homestead with natural resources. That experience is something that makes the hostel stay unique, opening up a way of life one may otherwise not be introduced to.
“I think we’re still very confident in what we offer,” said Carter-Sundqvist, who added that this has been the first year they have felt a decrease in demand because of internet booking websites. “It’s never been a question of what we’re doing, but how we reach people.”
When the couple opened the hostel 10 years ago, they did so with experience working at a similar hostel in Georgia, as well as with a “childish nativity” that it would just work.
“We just thought we would open and people would come and that it would just work,” said Carter-Sundqvist. “It makes us laugh now, how naive we were. That first summer not many people came. That was a reality check for us.”
Though that summer, and the one that followed, were a little rough for business, the couple pursued their endeavor, and eventually, mostly through word of mouth, people started to come, and the demand to stay increased.
“One summer we put up handmade posters at the local markets,” said Carter. “Business started getting better.”
Ten years later, the hostel is sold out for the summer. With space for 12 people at full capacity, the hostel features a main building, as well as a secluded hut a few yards away, and a hot shower operated by a compost pile.
Carter has built both the homestead and the hostel from scratch, and by hand. The process has been and continues to be ongoing, they said, with a new project seeming to surface every year.
“There was nothing here when we started it,” said Carter. “The main [hostel] building was here when we first opened, but the kitchen didn’t even look the same.”
“We had such a vague idea of what we wanted to be when we opened,” added Carter-Sudqvist. “We didn’t start with a blueprint. One thing at a time, we figured it out.”
While the business has found success, the couple agrees that it is watching people experience the homestead first hand that has been the most rewarding part about what they do.
“Watching people, especially the kids, enjoy this space, the bonfires, the way we live, that’s very special, and very powerful,” said Carter-Sundqvist. “We get letters from people who say that they want to live a little more off the grid because of their experience here.”
“It’s also very fun when people come together while staying at the hostel,” added Carter. “The best part for us is when we don’t have to entertain people because they’ve made connections with each other. We just get to hang back and watch that.”
One of the biggest things the couple has had to adapt to is having people living in their home for 100 days a year.
“It makes for very little personal space,” said Carter Sundqvist. “We’re sharing our bathroom, our kitchen, with 12 other people. But the people we get to meet, the stories we get to hear, we would not otherwise be able to share if not for the hostel. People come here from all over the world, and their stories are some that we treasure, even if it means having to share our lives so intensely.”
The couple used the hostel’s annual party, which is open to the public, to celebrate the anniversary on July 27. Featuring the Soulbenders, it was a way to not only celebrate their accomplishments, but also share with the public what makes the homestead so special to them.
“The party is our way to share what we do and who we are with the public every year,” said Carter-Sundqvist. “Also, we don’t leave the homestead much during the season, so it’s nice to be able to see the people in our community.”
The hostel is open for tours on Saturdays during the summer months, however Carter added that he is available to give tours throughout the week, provided the interested party gives him a call or sends an email.
“This community has been so supportive from the beginning, even if some people thought we were a little crazy,” said Carter-Sundqvist. “We enjoy being able to share with them what we do and give back any way we can.”