Former Balsam Mountain Inn future in limbo
The Grand Old Lady Hotel might be packing up its veranda rocking chairs, closing its doors and throwing in the guest towels.
If so Jackson County stands to lose a landmark and the revenue it brings in from tourism.
The 112-year-old hotel, formerly known as the Balsam Mountain Inn, is temporarily closed, according to owner Marzena Wyszynska.
“Financially, I cannot do it right now,” she said. “I would love to open. If I get any kind of help, maybe in May I would consider opening.”
However, the property is also listed for sale. Wyszenska did not disclose this fact during an interview with The Herald.
The hotel, like other businesses, suffered during the early days of the pandemic due to lockdowns and travel restrictions.
“I cannot describe the stress, shock and everything that comes with that in regards to my business,” Wyszynska said. “I had to cancel every single reservation. I had to cancel every event. We had weddings booked. We had reunions booked. We had (an) international dance competition booked. Being a hotelier, it’s devastating.”
Once restrictions were eased, tourism in Western North Carolina increased to record numbers with many thinking rural vacations and outdoor destinations might be a safer choice.
The hotel did not see increased numbers, Wyszynska said.
Wyszynska acquired the hotel in late 2017 and performed renovations.
The property was purchased “with full understanding that it’s a historical building, and I would need to do a lot of work in order to bring it to the condition that I would be proud of,” she said. “It’s was kind of challenging; however, I love challenges. After purchasing the building, I have had a lot of challenges. In the first winter, the furnace failed and the building froze up.”
Despite the trials, the hotel had performed well over the past two years with an 80 percent increase in clients in 2019, Wyszenska said.
She believes the company was set to do well in 2020 with 20 percent occupancy on the books early in the year.
Then, the pandemic took hold.
When restrictions were eased, Wyszenska opened the hotel up at half capacity but did not see the increase in visitors other rental services did.
Wyszenska said she was also hampered by an inability to find staff willing to work.
The hotel lost over 90 percent of revenue compared to 2019, she said.
The inability to book large events was a major loss, Wyszenska said.
The hotel received CARES act funds but closed the doors in October due to a lack of business.
The age of the building required constant maintenance and upkeep which could not be done without capital to reinvest, Wyszenska said.
In November, she held an estate auction leading some to worry that she was selling off historic pieces connected to the building’s history.
Wyszenska claims that was not the case.
“Most of the furniture that I inherited were not really antiques,” she said “They were old furniture, and they were just broken, very different styles, different values. I mean nothing really worth nothing. So, I decided to open the doors and say come and get it. You want to donate a couple of dollars here and there come and get it.”
Some of the pieces were in such disrepair that they were liabilities, she said.
A china cabinet that had been in storage was the only genuine antique sold, but all other antiques are still at the hotel and are being preserved, Wyszenska said.
The sale did not bring in enough funds to take care of repairs and continue doing business.
Wyszenska does not see a way to open the doors to business at the moment and is not taking reservations because there is no capital to open.
“All these aspects just piled up the virus and the lockdowns and the restrictions,” she said. “It completely destroyed my business.”
Wyszenska said she would like to continue operating the hotel and had been considering ways to do so including renting 10 less popular guest rooms on the first floor to local shops and bringing in a third party to operate the bar and restaurant.
However, the hotel is listed on LoopNet for $2.5 million and is being sold through Wyszenska’s realty firm The CORE Real Estate.
The listing for the hotel states, “Former small boutique hotel. This historic property is being sold ‘as is.’ Great potential for a retirement home, rehabilitation center and/or Inn/hotel.”
Wyszenska had not returned requests for comment on the listing as of press time.
By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald