BLUE HILL, Maine — Think your dream of owning an inn in Maine for an entrance fee and a short essay expired? Here’s your second chance.
On Monday, June 15, Sarah Pebworth of the Blue Hill Inn will follow in the wake of the Center Lovell Inn by launching an essay contest for would-be innkeepers.
The 11-room inn, steps from the harbor, will go not to the deepest pockets but to the best wordsmith. Sound familiar?
The inn-for-essay concept went viral in March, when Janice Page, owner of the Center Lovell Inn offered her sprawling New England bed-and-breakfast for $125 bucks and the right sentiment. She picked a winner last week, whose identity had yet to be revealed.
The notion of bestowing an inn for a well-crafted narrative instead of mounds of cash is catching on.
“People love the idea that, even if they don’t win, they’ve helped someone else follow their dreams,” said Pebworth, who made good on her dream in 2007, when a windfall from her deceased mother allowed her to assume proprietorship of this classic inn, where E.B. White once dined. Now the 49-year-old is ready for a new take on life.
“When I bought the inn, I was single and happily married to the 1830s building and the innkeeping lifestyle. But now I’m engaged, and it’s time to move on and fulfill dreams that my partner and I have together and make space here for someone else’s dream,” she said.
Interested? You have until Oct. 1 to cough up $150 and cobble together a 200-word pithy plea.
“I want to be able to hear the passion that someone has for this venture and some reassurance for the skills,” she said. “It has to be someone who is savvy enough to figure out how to run a small business.”
Unlike the Center Lovell Inn’s contest, Pebworth is not restricting the competition to strangers who have never set foot in her “comfortable, elegant but not stuffy” inn, which includes a chef’s kitchen and two apartment units. “I want my friends and neighbors to enter [and] people who have stayed here to get a chance.”
The minimum number of entries for the Lovell contest was 7,500. To Pebworth, “the Blue Hill Inn contest gives a second chance to those 7,499 disappointed people.” If she receives 7,500 entrees, the winner will be awarded $25,000 in startup fees.
Is this a coincidence, or is the concept of winning a business for the right lines here to stay? In Massachusetts, a cinema is on offer for $99 and 250 words; a goat dairy and creamery in Alabama is staging its own contest; and a cupcakery in Vermont recently was up for grabs for a nominal fee, an essay and a recipe.
“I think you are going to see a lot more people doing this,” said Bil Mosca, the previous owner of the Center Lovell Inn who dreamed up the concept in the early ’90s and picked Sage as the winner.
Mosca and his wife, Susie, recently wrote a book, “Passing Along A Dream,” which chronicles the contest, includes a few essays — Page’s among them — and reveals the ups and downs of running an inn in Maine for 20 years. It came out in March and is available online at Amazon and Smashwords.com.
Because of his success, Bil Mosca has become a consultant for innkeepers eager to launch their own contest.
He recently received calls from Maine and Massachusetts innkeepers who are considering this. “It’s a novel way to do something. It worked so beautifully for us,” Bill Mosca said.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he said. “It’s a romantic concept to be able to choose who wins your place. For us, it was really important to turn it over to someone who we hoped would respect it — that may not come across in a normal business transaction.”
For proprietors including Pebworth, whose inn is appraised at $1,155,000, such a creative process makes sense. She is not capping the contest at 7,500; but if she achieves that many entries, she could walk away with $1,125,000.
“It’s small-business ownership meets crowdfunding meets follow your bliss,” said Pebworth, whose contest Facebook page, launched in late May, has attracted more than 1,000 followers.
Pebworth will be the first person to read the essays. She then will winnow the pool down to the top 100 “that convey the passion and interest.” The finalist will be passed on to three independent judges. “My mother was a very generous person and fair-minded. To pass it along felt right.”
Sharpen your pencils and dust off the thesaurus. Full contest details can be found at WintheBlueHillInn on Facebook.