February 20, 2018
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Hospitality, history for sale in NH at Balsams resort auction

By HOLLY RAMER, The Associated Press

DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. — From the pastel wicker chairs lined up in the sunroom to the stacks of bright red ski lift seats outside, the list of items for auction at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel is as sweeping as the view surrounding the historic property in far northern New Hampshire.

Saturday’s auction is another step toward restoring the nearly 150-year-old hotel, which was sold for $2.3 million in December to two local businessmen who hope to renovate it and reopen it next year. And though a recent snag involving approval for subdividing the land has temporarily stalled the project, the auction will go on as scheduled.

The auction includes more than 2,400 items, many of which encompass the contents of entire guest rooms. It does not, however, include any furniture or photos from the famed “ballot room,” where residents vote just after midnight every four years to lead off the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Only a few memorabilia items from there are up for grabs, including the posters on which votes were tallied for the 2008 and 2012 primaries.

While other hotels and inns will likely snatch up the guest room furnishings, there has also been plenty of interest from sentimental former guests and employees. One woman placed a $500 phone bid Thursday for one of the ski lift chairs because her children had learned to ski at the resort, said Charlie Ames, manager of North Country Auctions.

“It might be just one chair out of one room they want,” he said.

Ames, who expects the auction to bring in between $200,000 and $250,000, has been scurrying around the hotel’s back passages and underground tunnels for weeks in preparation. By the time potential bidders arrived Thursday, he had the layout memorized, and was able to rattle off directions to a couple looking specifically for Lot 433, a pizza oven.

In another part of the kitchen, Rob and Sharon Baum, who own a farm in Canaan, Vt., were eyeing some enormous steam kettles set atop pedestals.

“You can make cheese with it,” said Rob Baum. “You run hot water through them, and it heats the whole thing.”

Sharon Baum said she also was enjoying the chance to tour parts of the hotel that are usually off limits.

“A lot of these places, if you came over here, you were never able to come back in the kitchen,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

In the attic, painted wrought-iron bed frames leaned against the eaves. In another corner, a towering stack of metal serving trays loomed over a pile of binders holding recipes from years past. One included a scolding note to kitchen workers telling them to stop leaving food out for hours before a meal.

“This does not make sense and you are playing with fire when you do it,” the memo read.

Browsing through the dining room, Judy and Rick Gosselin of Stewartstown lingered over a collection of wooden signs bearing the name of ski trails.

“I’ve lived here all my life and I worked here, so it’s hard to see it go,” said Rick Gosselin, who worked as a caddy on the resort’s golf course in the 1960s and later held a variety of hotel jobs.

“It’s pretty sad, but I guess it’s a sign of the times,” Judy Gosselin said. “And we need the employment.”

Though there has been some grumbling about the auction by some of the hotel’s former guests, the new owners are blunt about what’s at stake. They’re running a business, not a museum.

“People who have ever stayed at the Balsams have such a deep, emotional attachment to stuff that if you auction off a lamp, it might make someone sad,” said Scott Tranchemontagne, a spokesman for Balsams View LLC.

“But the reality is there’s a reason this hotel was for sale. And the reason is, it hasn’t received any serious renovation for 40 years, and it’s losing money,” he said. “Our No. 1 job is to renovate this thing and put people back to work. We also want to retain as much of the character and legacy as we can, but we have to make this venture profitable.”

Mark Miller of Dover, who has been visiting the Balsams every year with his wife since the 1980s, said he hopes the renovations don’t make the hotel seem too much like every other hotel. Last summer, he took pictures of everything he wanted to remember — from the furniture in the room to the pinecone pattern woven into the carpet.

“I guess I was feeling sentimental,” he said. “I had no idea what they were going to change at that point.”

He described the Balsams’ furnishings as a “cross between Grandma’s house and a fine estate out in the mountains.”

“It’s not even my style — I wouldn’t want to have that in my house, to be honest with you, but it’s there,” he said. “It’s the Balsams.”

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