Adding to the allure of Acorn Acres
Bozrah — Taking over from a legend is never easy, but if anyone can handle it, it's business maverick Scott Gladstone and partner Mark Asnes, principals in a firm that late last month bought the 100-acre Acorn Acres Campground here for $1.6 million.
As Gladstone uses a golf cart to swing through the wooded Lake Road campground, which just celebrated its 50th year in business, he's already on a first-name basis with many of the residents, dozens of whom live on site year-round. That's because, even before Acorn Campgrounds LLC bought the property from the estate of long-time owner Marion L. "Sis" O'Neil, who died earlier this year at age 84, a few long-time residents went to Gladstone to see if he'd buy it.
Gladstone, owner of several local Wireless Zone franchises with Neil Ryan, had branched out into the hotel and irrigation fields as well a previously buying a series of mobile-home parks. Now, he decided to expand into campgrounds as well.
"We want to continue Sis's legacy," said Gladstone, a Waterford resident. "She did an amazingly good job of keeping this place up."
Gladstone said he recently sent out a survey to campground residents to get their views, but he promised not to increase prices or impose any new rules right away.
"We have a lot of 40-year campers here, people who have raised their kids here," he said. "We're not looking to make any big changes."
But Gladstone is envisioning improvements to the property, including updated laundry facilities, upgrades to the pool, paving work and expanded offerings at the campground store. Acorn Acres also will be joining the 21st century by keeping track of reservations and payments through proprietary software.
"There was not a computer in the place," Gladstone said. "Everything was on pad and paper. ... Every camper had an index card."
The campground already had a lot of activities going on with a miniature golf course, tennis courts, basketball hoops, video games, adult community room, horseshoe pit, fishing pond, shuffleboard, a pool table and air hockey, not to mention a children's playground.
But Gladstone hopes to hire someone next season to concentrate on adding activities, such as paddleboarding, karaoke, concerts, hayrides, food events and kids' entertainment.
"We're going to look to create more community events," he added. "Whatever needs to get done here we're going to do it."
The campground, with a total of about 200 sites, runs seasonally from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, with four small cabins for rent as well. About 45 campers live on-site year round, with access to cable and Internet, along with 30- or 50-amp electrical service, ice, water and propane gas.
No WiFi is available, though Gladstone said he is looking into the possibility of getting service.
"A campground is a word of mouth type of enterprise," said Mark Asnes of Glastonbury, managing partner of the partnership's company, Freehold Real Estate of Norwich. "We need to use the people here to be our best salespeople."
Gladstone said the campground will be profitable in its current state, but he hopes the improvements and added community excitement will lead to higher occupancies and an even better business. If so, he foresees acquisitions of other campgrounds in the area, many of which have been owned for a long time, Gladstone said, and are in need of updates.
Gladstone made sure to extend employment offers to Sis O'Neil's team, all nine of whom are being retained for next season. Gladstone also has secured the services of a veteran campground manager to run the day-to-day operations.
"We just want to continue to exceed expectations," Gladstone said. "We have the ability to make sure campers get what they want."