Hotel Not Impossible
(June 14, 2013) A manager at the Lankford Hotel bustles through her morning answering phone calls, setting out trays of bagels and entertaining one of the hotel’s youngest guests. Toy cars spill from the corner of the lobby, an eclectic collection of framed cross-stitch embroideries, vintage armchairs, shorebird decoys and a phonograph.
Next door at the Salty Yarns needlework shop, the hotel owner offers a child a pack of doughnuts behind the counter while chatting with friends and patrons.
“It’s not a luxury hotel. It’s a home away from home,” said Lankford Hotel owner Sally Rutka. That homespun feeling is what keeps customers returning each summer, she said.
But the mother-daughter owners of the Lankford Hotel hope to attract new clientele thanks to a makeover this week on the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible,” a television show dedicated to giving hotels a weeklong, whirlwind remodeling, said Rutka’s daughter and hotel manager Mary David.
Since it began in April 2012, “Hotel Impossible,” under the guidance of host and hotel guru Anthony Melchiorri, has revived more than 25 hotels that are struggling or not living up to their potential.
The Lankford Hotel opened in 1924 and remains in the family. Rutka’s parents bought the hotel from her great aunt in 1962, and Rutka bought the business in 1988.
Not much has changed in that time, she said.
“I’ve been involved with it since 1962. I only see it one way and that way never changes,” Rutka said. But after she returned to college in her 40s, she “started to see that change has to happen.”
The hotel has undergone some major renovations since its inception, including outfitting each room with a bathroom and stripping wood paneling from the walls of the front rooms and replacing it with drywall.
The family renovates a room or two each year, but costs are “hindering,” Rutka said, leading David to apply for a shot on “Hotel Impossible” in February “as a lark.”
“At first I thought … ‘They’re never going to come to Ocean City,’” Rutka said. But her daughter filled out questionnaires and sent photos of the hotel and in early May received a phone call from the Travel Channel.
The family was hoping to keep the renovations between themselves and hotel guests until the show airs in August or September, but word spread fast in Ocean City.
“We’re all a little nervous,” David said. “We’re airing any problems that we have here and it’s a little scary, a little nerve-wracking, but in the end, it’s for the good of the hotel.”
The “Hotel Impossible” crew has hired local people and businesses, including Ocean City’s Joseph T. Dashiell Builders, for the overhaul of the 22-room, 28-apartment hotel, but is keeping details sparse, David said.
“They really try to make it as much of a surprise as they can,” she said.
Rutka is skeptical about changing the hotel, but agreed that the crew might be able to help her business.
“It’s always good to have an outside person come in and say, ‘If you were to do this differently, that would raise the bottom line.’”
The Lankford Hotel is open from the first weekend in May to the first weekend in October. The episode of “Hotel Impossible” will air in August or September.
To learn more about the hotel, visit www.lankfordhotel.com. Visit www.travelchannel.com/tv-shows/hotel-impossible for more information on “Hotel Impossible.”
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