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Open a few months before COVID hit, The Inn On Ocean Avenue is now closed till spring

When Allan and Sharon Goldfarb opened the Inn On Ocean Avenue in November, 2019, things went even better than they'd hoped for. There were immediate and enthusastic guests and plenty of burgeoning momentum.

Then the coronavirus hit — and, after years of planning and renovations to the property, the Goldfarbs closed the inn out of safety concerns until there are effective ways of dealing with the virus. Their plan is to reopen in March, and they're optimistically booking reservations for the spring and beyond.

It's a familiar situation for small businesses everywhere in the pandemic. There's a lot of uncertainty and stop/start indecision and unexpcted twists — all of which calls for resilience and improvisation.

Then the coronavirus hit — and, after years of planning and renovations to the property, the Goldfarbs chose to close the Inn for safety precautions during the virus. Their plan is to re-open in March, and they're optimistically booking reservations for the spring and beyond.

It's a familiar situation for small businesses everywhere in the pandemic. There's a lot of uncertainty and stop/start indecision and unexpcted twists — all of which calls for resilience and improvisation.

Such challenges shouldn't be a problem, though, because the Goldfarbs never planned on opening an inn to begin with — much less in New London.

What happened is, as New York City natives and longtime residents of Westchester County, the Goldfarbs were well-acquainted with the "weekend getaway" concept. And some years back, on one such mini vacation, they visited Mystic.

"We'd heard great things about it, and it was the right distance for a quick trip," Allan Goldfarb remembers. "And when we got there, it was really nice. Then we asked, 'Where's the beach?' They told us, 'Oh, for that, go to New London and Ocean Beach.' That wasn't what we were expecting, but we drove over and had a great time. Ocean Beach reminded us of Coney Island a bit in a retro way. It was a nice beach — exactly what we'd wanted. And New London was surprising. Like a little city in its various cultures."

Comfortable elegance

As Allan Goldfarb gives a visitor a tour of their otherwise empty Inn On Ocean Avenue a few days before Thanksgiving — several months into the coronavirus — the overall impression is of understated but comforting elegance. In fact, the Inn On Ocean Avenue provides the sort of ambience that makes it easy for a guest used to luxury to feel immediately at home, while a perhaps-less-traveled guest can relax simultaneously pat him- or herself on the back for staying in an affordably upscale hotel.

There are six tastefully appointed bedrooms — "The Old Vic Room," "The Apollo Room," "The Isabel Chapman Room," "The Lyceum Room," "The Lyric Room" and "The Majestic Room" — each with its own color scheme, furniture, wall art, and distinctive personality. (Rooms are currently running $175-$260 per night.) There is also an old-school sitting parlor, a music room, and a dining room with a large communal table. Out back is a garden, a swimming pool, a patio and landscaped grounds, and of course Ocean Beach is only a few blocks away.

To walk through the Inn On Ocean Avenue is to infer a sort of proud history, as though perhaps generations of guests have returned again and again to a treasured spot. But that's not exactly how it happened.

No epiphany

On that original weekend getaway, as the Goldfarbs were leaving New London to head back to Westchester County, they saw the huge home — an estate, really — for sale at the corner of Ocean and Glenwood avenues. They didn't have time to stop and take a look, but the house, a red brick Dutch Colonial with three dormers, a portico, a stone wall, and massive trees in a huge yard, built in 1914, stayed in Allan Goldfarb's head.

"I wasn't expecting an epiphany," he remembers, "but something definitely resonated about the place."

After he got home, Goldfarb, an attorney and real estate agent, looked up the property online and noted a price he casually considered exorbitant since he had no plans but only curiosity. Still, he continued to check it from time to time. The home was off-market for a while and then, one day, Goldfarb impulsively visited the site and saw the house was up for sale again — at half the original asking place.

"I gotta go see this thing," he said. And he did.

"I thought it had tons of potential, but it was also a complete mess," Goldfarb says. "I don't know how many people had been living there. It was subdivided and animals running around." He laughs. "We had no idea what might be buried there."

The Goldfarbs, though, were ready for a change and, at the end of 2015, they bought the place for about $450,000 with the vague idea that it might make a nice small hotel.

"It always reminded us of a B&B we stayed in once in the English lakes district," Goldfarb says, "and so the idea was in our minds."

For a year, the Goldfarbs and their two daughters lived there, cleaning it up and trying to determine the extent of work they wanted to put into it. During that time, the Goldfarbs got acquainted with New London and the area. He says, "We were absolutely surprised by the urban, artsy context in New London. There are plenty of nice restaurants in the region. And all of that played into it. We made friends here who've been very supportive. If we'd had to open a hotel in some sort of enclave or gated type of community, it wouldn't have been the same."

Eventually, the idea of turning it into a bed and breakfast — The Inn On Ocean Avenue — solidified. It took a full year of renovation and required the family move off site and stay locally. In addition to substantial improvements being made to the facility and grounds, there were plenty of city and state permits and licenses to negotiate. But as the process went further, Goldfarb says he knew they were making a decision that pleased them.

"We felt comfortable that it was something we could do," he says. "I was in residential real estate for years in Manhattan, and I'm used to dealing with the public; we enjoy being around people. Plus, I've always been a good cook. While getting my master's and law degree at George Washington, I worked in an omelet room in a fancy restaurant, and I'm happy and comfortable cooking. We even had some proper marmalade for a visiting couple from England."

... and then the virus hit

In November 2019, the Goldfarbs opened The Inn and joined a B&B Association in Mystic and the Chamber of Commerce of Southeastern Connecticut.

"The Chamber even sponsored a ribbon-cutting for us," Goldfarb says. "We were gratified by their kindness and efforts, and they put the word out. I put a sign up in front of the house. (Chamber president) Tony Sheridan called and said, 'Don't be disappointed if no more than 25 people show up because it can take some time for word to get out. That's what we're trying to do.'"

Goldfarb says he was in the kitchen sitting with the caterers, figuring they could at least have enough food for a week if no one showed up. Within an hour, there were 110 people including Mayor Michael Passero.

"It was an amazing night, and we had a great start," Goldfarb says. The Inn quickly attracted guests and people planning ahead. "It was cumulative. We were getting parents visiting colleges with their kids. There were a lot of locals spending a night or two or people going to or coming from New York or Boston. The O'Neill Center were immediately wonderful customers, and a lot of people expressed interest for weddings."

"We took an early tour and helped with their ribbon-cutting," Sheridan says in a phone call last week. "They were off to a wonderful start, and all signs were really good. They're a very nice couple in a great location, and they've done a marvelous job of renovation. And we're all going through a tough, tough time. My advice to Allan and Sharon is just to hang in there. They've added so much to the area with their hospitality and their beautiful inn."

For now, while the Goldfarbs say they're hoping the friends they've made and the word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied customers will maintain interest in the B&B. 

"We certainly didn't expect an event like the virus," Goldfarb says, "but we had a solid business plan we were hoping to follow. We've obviously had to push it back. There are a lot of signs of strength in our area that we weren't expecting when we DID open, so we're counting on those when things pick up again."

He looks out the side window of one the inn's second floor guest rooms and says, "We weren't open that long, but even so, we had people from all over the country and even the world. Texas, Florida, North Carolina, California ... Ireland and England. We're happy to say no one's been disappointed and several have promised to come back. I think they will. Thank God I had orange marmalade for the Brits."

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