OGDENSBURG – When Bruce and Yvonne “Bonnie” LaRose, owners of the Stonefence Resort, retired from the business in 2005, they never anticipated they would buy it back eight years later.
But for the last three months the couple has been restoring the 12-acre resort at 7191 Route 37 and training a new generation of hotel owners.
When the couple first bought the motel in 1985, it was a small roadside 12-unit motel run by George and Carol Erwin. The LaRoses lived next door in a white house that is now known as the Manor House on the resort. The Erwins approached the couple to ask if they would want to take over ownership of the motel.
“I remember it was a little rundown and had a man in a sombrero and a cactus on the roof blinking in neon lights,” Mrs. LaRose said. “It was kind of a like a joke at the time, ‘What would we want with that motel’
Eventually, the LaRoses acquiesced and began to fix up the motel. There was one colored television and one air conditioning unit between the 12-units. The husband-and-wife team worked hard to fix up the motel. They started out renting rooms at $27 a night.
“We liked it right away. We enjoyed it,” Mr. LaRrose said. “It was profitable. We started right away with such good business that we started building and adding on.”
Mr. LaRose eventually drew up his own plans to add extended-stay townhouses behind the motel. Eventually a front lobby, a marina, tennis court and a restaurant were added. The pool was moved to the back. Another extended stay unit by the river was built and completed in 1992.
While Mr. LaRose worked for St. Lawrence County as director of Data Processing in Canton, Mrs. LaRose managed the hotel.
“Bonnie built the business, and she worked very hard at it,” Mr. LaRose said. “She was excellent with customers. She was in the office almost all of the time for at least 12 hours a day. She didn’t mind it that much because she enjoyed the customers. We still have customers that come back even though we have been out of it for eight years that ask for Bonnie. I am sure we are going to have them coming back once they find out she is involved in it again.”
The Stonefence Resort got its name from the thousands of feet of meticulously manicured stone fence that surrounds the property. The fences were built by the late stone wall builder Erwin K. Quigley.
“A lot of the stone comes from when we dug foundations for the buildings,” Mr. LaRose said. “We had to do something with it so we built fences. He didn’t build it all at once. It took nearly 10 years. Each year he would build a little more. We never dreamed we would build as much fence as we did.”
Mr. LaRose said he is training his grandson, David Troiano, 20, to become general manager of the hotel one day.
“He is spending his time learning how to run it,” Mr. LaRose said. “He is a people person, and he has some ideas on what he likes to see done.”
Several other family members have also joined the family business, Mrs. LaRose said.
“It’s not just David,” she said. “His mother, Beth, is also helping. Our granddaughters will help with the housekeeping and computer work. Jack, our 13-year-old grandson, does all of the grass cutting. It truly is a family affair. We wouldn’t think of doing this again without them.”
In the last three months, Mr. LaRose said he has been working with his grandson to renovate the townhouses and restore several rooms after a fire destroyed a portion of the motel in February. He said there are no plans to expand the resort as of yet. The resort’s restaurant, The Dining Room, which was heavily damaged by smoke, will remain closed for the time being.
“We just want to get the hotel back in order and build our customer base up again,” Mr. LaRose said. “Bonnie and I very much enjoy the motel. We enjoyed the customers. We had a lot of repeat business which we value very much. Probably close to 40 percent of our business was goodwill, repeat business. We enjoyed having repeat business and having our customers come back. It got to be more like a family then.”
Mrs. LaRose said that with the bulk of reservations done on the Internet business has changed drastically over the years.
“When we owned it we tried really hard to be a three-diamond, AAA-rated resort motel and that was what helped our business back in those days before there were reviews on the Internet,” she said. “We also used to have the customers settle their bill when they checked out so we could greet them that morning. We enjoyed that. Now they leave anytime they want to leave. That’s really different than what it used to be.”
But despite the changing times, Mrs. LaRose said customer service is still Stonefence’s number one priority.
“I never could stand it when a customer would complain,” Mrs. LaRose said. “That was my biggest thing. I couldn’t stand not having everything pleasing to people. That is what we are aiming for again - satisfied customers.”
The couple said they hope to once again make the resort a destination, not just another roadside motel.
“Ogdensburg is centrally located to Ottawa, Lake Placid, Montreal and the Thousand Islands,” Mr. LaRose said. “The St. Lawrence is a pretty good attraction all by itself. For years we had a family that came for a few weeks just for Muskie fishing. I always tell people this is the best place on the St. Lawrence River.”