Tales of The Dutch Inn
Last summer a guy rolls in to the standby lot to try to get on the ferry. I forgot his real name — but he looked like a Wally. He was a pleasant guy, and he got me a Diet Coke from the Portside where he went with his friends to burn up the clock and have lunch. Wally was a thoughtful guy — it was 90 degrees. He was with another guy. This guy didn’t say much — he nodded a lot, when me and Wally spoke. Our conversation went something like this.
“That hotel looks pretty beat,” said Wally.
“Yup, it’s seen better days,” I said. (I referenced my “Dutch Inn, Revisited” column in the Block Island Times, and gave him a quick snootful of the Inn’s history.) Wally listened. His pal nodded.
“Too bad. That place is in a good spot,” Wally said scoping the back of the hotel, “That could be a smaller place with about 50 rooms, a health club, restaurant and a pool — and a special function room.”
Then Wally explained how a Marriot Courtyard, or a Hampton Inn kind of place would work there. He talked about marketing, and demographics — his buddy nodded. Playing devil’s advocate, I told Wally that Galilee had become an embarkation point for people going to Block Island. “This place is much more than that, the beach down the road there is beautiful,” he said, “This can be a destination, plus you have the University of Rhode Island nearby. There are numbers to tap in to over there.” “So, it’s a build it they will come thing,” I said. “Exactly,” said Wally. His buddy nodded. “What’s your dodge, what do you do,” I asked. “Oh, stuff like this,” he said. Wally had his act wired up pretty good. Wally paid attention to things.
The word around the campfire is that the current owners of the Dutch Inn — I can’t call it the Lighthouse — want to knock the aging building down and simply have it be a parking lot. This means that the lease would need to be changed — complex stuff. Moreover, it appears that the owners don’t want a hotel. This begs the question: is this all for the greater good and for the Port of Galilee? It appears that the State of Rhode Island is working to power up the image of the state with some pretty expensive advertisement campaigns — jobs, jobs, jobs. Maybe Wally has a good idea. There’s lots of upside if we look at this objectively.
First of all, this would create jobs for the local economy. (Many of my former students from Narragansett High School were cooks, waiters, bartenders, and lifeguards at the hotel.) Many people in town have fond memories of working at the Dutch Inn. Secondly, it would serve folks who need a room for myriad reasons: missed ferries—which happens more than one would think — weddings, graduations, conferences, weekend getaways, and staycations—as a rule Rhode Islanders don’t stray too far from home. Thirdly, it would enhance the aesthetic of the port if designed properly. Finally, the owners could have it all — the hotel and the parking. Win win.
Of course, this all requires a substantial monetary commitment and some effort of the owners. Conversely, simply staffing a parking lot could be done for short money, and little effort, during the busy season. Again, the owners could have it all by simply staying within the current lease as it is clearly delineated. Moreover, there is already substantial parking in Galilee. On busy weekends with exceptional weather, there are cars that park in the port where the owner could get a ticket — a revenue stream for the town. However, this only happens on extremely busy weekends.
To people who say there is no market for a hotel in Galilee: I strongly disagree; there is a market for everything. Remember the Pet Rock? Hell, in my wild days I hung in a saloon in Daytona Beach that sold Richard Petty’s race car exhaust in a can for five scoots. During the Daytona 500, the saloon owner ratcheted up the price! The guy made a beautiful dollar. Also in Daytona a guy made this suntan oil called Hawaiian Tropic. He made the stuff in his bath tub, and then his marketing skills kicked in. He’d have these pretty women sailing Hobie Cats up and down Daytona Beach. The sail had the logo, which cued the people on the beach. This sharp guy had every hotel on the beach selling this stuff: pre-sun, in-the-sun, after-sun, and without-the-sun. The guy cleaned up for years, and the smell of coconut oil wafted lazily over the whole coast of Florida. We seek out markets, and then pursue them. It’s the bedrock of American business sense.
If my boyo Wally and his nodding friend are right, then maybe we are missing an opportunity for something positive in The Port of Galilee. I keep thinking about the Dutch Inn in its halcyon days. All of the locals have great memories, and they were sharing them with me at the docks as well as on Facebook. I think of all the kids who had their first jobs at the Inn. I also think of all the special events that happened there: birthdays, pool parties, conferences, and other family-centered events. If Standby lot Wally’s vision ever comes to fruition, perhaps there will not only money to be made, but there will be many personal memories to file away for future reference.