By Laurelle Walsh
Frequent travelers along Highway 20 through Winthrop might have noticed a new sign — Alderbrook Inn — on the south end of town in front of what was formerly Cascade Inn. The 25-year-old lodging establishment was purchased last summer by Kristin and Joshua Buehler and is receiving a much-needed injection of energy and attention from the young couple.
The first half-year of operations has not been easy, the Buehlers admit, “but we really like it here,” Kristin said. And family, friends and fellow business owners have provided the emotional support and encouragement to help them face the many challenges that have cropped up.
The Buehlers took over ownership of the neglected inn at the end of June 2014 — just weeks before the start of the Carlton Complex Fire. The facility had been closed and repossessed by the bank six months prior, and was in barely operable condition. The couple was new to the area and finding workers to help was nearly impossible.
“When we arrived none of the rooms were open,” due to non-functioning toilets and zero hot water, said Joshua. Air conditioning/heater units also needed to be replaced throughout the inn, he said.
“We had four rooms open the first day,” July 1, said Kristin, with another 16 ready for visitors the following week. They were pleased to have all 60 rooms up and running by mid-summer — ahead of schedule, she said.
When the wildfire broke out and power, phone and Internet went down, the Buehlers opened their rooms to evacuees. “Some people had fled with their pets and the clothes on their backs,” said Kristin. They had 10 or 12 people living under their roof before the emergency was over, she said.
“Everybody here has been so hospitable,” said Kristin, who noted a distinct difference in the business culture here as compared to their former community of Long Beach, Washington, where they ran a 14-unit “boutique hotel” for three years.
“Businesses on the coast are very competitive,” said Joshua, whereas they’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that business owners in the Methow “really support each other,” he said.
Gene Westlund, owner of the Winthrop Inn next door, “has been great,” and helped them winterize Alderbrook Inn’s swimming pool, Joshua said.
Getting that pool in tip-top shape was another of the Buehlers’ victories over the summer. When they took over, the pool hadn’t been used in three years. “We had to scoop out the algae by hand,” Kristin said. They proceeded to repair tiles, fix plumbing and repaint, and had the pool ready for guests to enjoy by August, she said.
Hail clogged the inn’s roof drains during one of the summer’s big storms, and the Buehlers discovered — the hard way — that the building’s flat roof drained into the 10,000-square-foot basement, flooding their apartment and office along the way. “It’s like a swimming pool up there,” Joshua said. “We’re still figuring out the drainage issue.”
This winter they have been snowblowing the roof to reduce the snow load and lessen upcoming spring melt problems, they hope.
After working 18-hour days over the summer, the Buehlers have welcomed the winter slowdown, still working on projects around the inn, but taking time “to play and relax,” they said. They’ve been enjoying skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling with friends and family.
They live on-site, and still marvel at the view of the Methow River from their apartment balcony, they said.
The Buehlers both hail from the Portland/Vancouver area, where Kristin went to massage school and had a massage therapy business for 11 years. Joshua went to Lower Columbia College and Washington State University, Vancouver, where he studied diesel mechanics and business.
“Josh is the problem solver,” Kristin said. “If something needs fixing, he’ll figure out a way to do it.”
“Duct tape,” Joshua remarked, displaying the good humor needed to tackle the challenges they’ve faced.
They held a contest among friends, family and guests last summer to re-name the inn. “The old business had a bad reputation and we wanted to change that,” Kristin said. They agreed on Alderbrook Inn — a combination of different names suggested — because it evoked a feeling of tranquility and peacefulness, they said.
Find Alderbrook Inn on Facebook and at the website www.alderbrookhotel.com.