The Last Hostel on Nantucket Has Closed

It is no longer the star of the sea.
Photo: Hostelling International

“It was simple and it hasn’t changed,” said Sharon Ames. She should know: She’s spent the past 35 summers in a tiny cottage on Nantucket next to the Star of the Sea Inn, a roughly 40-bed operation in a converted lifeboat station, on the cliffs of Surfside Beach.

This is how Nantucket, 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, likes to think of itself: simple and unblemished, a place where almost every building is covered in gray shingles – the cedar loses its coppery color over the course of a few winters – and roses still climb the low wooden fences and siding. Never mind that all the pretty two-bedroom cottages get destroyed at $ 1.5 million, summer house rentals cost over $ 30,000 a week, and a smoked salmon bagel will set you back $ 21. On Nantucket, the aesthetic leans Quaker, but the prices are full of Kardashians, and the spirit of the global elite is the one that has come to dominate.

Until last fall, there was one exception: the Star of the Sea, the island’s only true budget accommodation, where a bed cost $ 40 a night. As such, it attracted those with modest means and thrifty habits: teachers, scout troops, groups of cycle tourists, iron-man athletes, foreigners on a J-1 summer work visa, families, groups of friends from middle age, retirees. “Everyone in Nantucket is really, really rich, isn’t it? It’s that rarefied bullshit party, ”said Janice deMooy, who ran the hostel for a decade, from 2007 to 2017.“ And for a family or kids or college kids to come to Nantucket – they want the history, the whaling museum, they read Moby-dick – we were the only place. And everyone did not care. You all stay together, you all paid $ 40. A community would come together. And this past fall, it stopped for good.

In July 1963, American hostels purchased the building, a disused lifeboat station dating from 1873, awash in Gothic carpenter details and featuring a dome that guests could climb up via a ladder. Its large open rooms were well suited to the barracks-style layout that most inns had at the time. Popular activities included swimming in the sea, visiting historic sites, and strolling on the beach. According to a local newspaper, hoteliers at that time found the islanders “friendly” and “sociable” and the island pleasant with its “exterior” and “wonderful beaches”.

Over the years, even as the ultra-rich have invaded Nantucket, crushing the local blue bloods with bigger houses, bigger boats and private jets, that same healthy, down-to-earth ethic prevailed at the inn, with barbecues and campfires, bird watching. stars, sunbathing and, of course, swimming. As it was surrounded by Nantucket Conservation Land on three sides, at the end of a quiet dead end street about three miles from the city, it was also physically removed from many of the changes that swept through the rest of the city. Isle.

“Can you imagine… being able to stay in Nantucket for less than $ 50 a night !!” … Breakfast included! ”Praised a TripAdvisor review a few years ago.“ It sounds too good to be true, but if you can share a bathroom and sleep in a dormitory, you’re good to go. from ! “

I have stayed at the hostel several times over the years as a child and later as an adult, and it was too good to be true, especially as the island got more and more expensive and exclusive. And it wasn’t just Nantucket that was getting more expensive and exclusive, but everywhere, as Airbnb grabbed the vacation market and people realized that by installing white oak plank floors. wide and a high end wood stove, they could rent a Catskills cabin into an “experience” for $ 400 a night. When the cabins in the sticks a few miles from the local swimming hole were out of most budgets, it seemed fantastic that you could stay so little in one of the nicest spots in Nantucket, where you could hear the surf going. crash at night and walk for miles the beach after breakfast – the beaches, unlike those at so many holiday destinations on the east coast, are undeveloped and almost all accessible to the public – stopping to swim each time that you are hot or lie down with a book whenever you are tired. Staying there puts a bit in a cat’s mindset can look like a king, and honestly one of the inn’s many charms was knowing that the ultrarich couldn’t claim the place. like theirs.

Until last October, when it was sold to a developer in Boston, Blue Flag Partners, for $ 3.55 million. Hostelling International, which owned the property, said COVID-19 was the cause. “We were an organization that was closed for almost a year. We had to make some very difficult decisions, ”said Aaron Chaffee, vice president of Hostelling International, responsible for operations and real estate. “We have sold ten hostels. We had no plans to do this. Nantucket’s two large dorms, he said, were a big part of what doomed him. Over the years, this model was gradually abandoned in favor of buildings divided into smaller and more hotel spaces. “The old-fashioned camp feel of a hostel is not as in demand as it used to be,” he explains, noting that the subdivided layout is also much better suited to COVID protocols.

It will not be demolished. The lifeboat station, the last of its kind on the island, has received preservation grants in the past, according to Mary Bergman, executive director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust, and is considered a structure contributing to the status of a National Historic Landmark. Nantucket. And Blue Flag is run by a local, sort of: Terry Sanford, who has long-standing ties to the island – in fact, there’s a New York Time history from 1979 about his parents “Homesteading on a Tugboat” in Nantucket harbor with him and his brother Matthew. Matthew Sanford is the chairman of the Egan Maritime Museum, which was the other bidder for the inn’s ownership. None of the Sanford brothers responded to requests for comment, but Blue Flag, which owns several luxury hotels in the city center, told the Interrogator and mirror Last fall, plans for the property “included both a hostel and luxury hotels.”

But Blue Flag’s other properties in Nantucket make it clear which class of travelers Sanford is for: in one, the modest “Innkeeper’s Quarter,” with a double bed, rents for $ 715 a night in August. , and in another, the decor is inspired by the maritime adventures of an exotic captain.

Either way, it seems unlikely that future property setups will involve $ 40 beds or teenage cyclists. This summer, it is planned to house lifeguards; the city of Nantucket rented for the season for $ 45,000. “I loved Girl Scouts and Girl Scout Moms,” said deMooy. “All of a sudden you were hearing chants coming from the bathroom; they would be in the shower and they are all singing and using all the water. It was pure happiness. The magic happens with whoever shows up that night. As Bergman said, “Fortunately, the building will last. We will see until use. Ames, for her part, thinks she knows what it will be. “I’m not against the change, but we were really hoping it would be bought out by a museum,” she said. “I’m sure the people who bought it are going to make a pretty good deal out of it. A beautiful boutique hotel.

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