Another Small Business Survival Story
The Landing of Morro Bay reopened in March of 2017 with a new name, new look, and new ownership. Chris Ferrante liked the atmosphere the property wanted to become, but she knew it would be a lot of work. Although new to the area, yet in the hotel business for 30-something years, she instantly recognized and appreciated what made Morro Bay unique from other Central Coast communities.
“Walking the Embarcadero, I really liked the old fishing village feel of Morro Bay,” Ferrante said. “I liked that fisherman still live here and the shops were often owner-operated. I could feel the history of Morro Bay. People were so friendly – people helping people.” She decided during that walk the decor she would adapt. “I wanted a simple motif that reflected the fishing village concept.”
With her contractor ready to go, they started the renovation in February. “We gutted the rooms and either trashed or donated the usable furnishings.”
In 2016 she had been searching for another California coastal property intending to expand beyond the one she owned in Santa Cruz, Beach Street Inn. There were three available in Morro Bay, but the rule of commercial real estate investment is ‘location, location, location.’ The Landing sits at 780 Market Street in between Morro Bay’s waterfront business district, the Embarcadero, and the heart of Main Street & Morro Bay Blvd. Across the street is Dorn’s Original Breakers Cafe and when Ferrante first opened, guests could also walk across the street to D’Stacio’s Italian Ristorante or venture down the wooden staircase access leading to bay-front shopping and restaurants or walk the other direction a block and find more shops and eateries. Indeed, the property has location.
However, before the season could start in 2017, Highway 1 closed due to mudslides. “It was a tough year but I expected our first year to be break-even, so I kept renovating,” Ferrante said “We installed the new railings, steps and staircase.” She exchanged the swimming pool for a guest social gathering area. She intends to do a project per year. “Always like to put some love into my properties.”
The industry thrived in 2019. Both Ferrante’s properties did well. And despite another major set back to operations with Covid-19 in 2020, she said, “Since reopening in late May, I’m only off bookings by 15 percent of last year. A boom hit in August and September. International travel is down 25 percent, but we are better than last year — not by leaps and bounds — but headed in the right direction.”
Ferrante started working in hotels at age 24. Born and raised in San Jose, she graduated with a business degree and needed a job. She started at a Red Lion Inn in Modesto. She worked her way up from food and beverage to room management at numerous California properties.
“It was common to move around within corporate hotel chains,” she said.
Her general management opportunity came with renovation duties at the 500-room Dream Inn near Disneyland. Once completed she moved back home to San Jose, met and married Scott Pinheiro, who had assumed ownership of the family travel agency in Santa Cruz. She purchased, renovated and renamed the 48-room beachfront property, Beach Street Inn. In 2014 she also purchased a hotel management company, an employee training resource agency for smaller hotels.
“When COVID hit in March I’d already been through 911, the last recession and the closing of Highway 1 (May 2017). When the Governor said we’d shut down a few weeks, I believed him, but it was months,” said Ferrante. “It hit before we could generate any income at the hotels. Everyone was sheltering. The hardest thing I ever did was on April 1. I had all their checks and had to say to my six employees, ‘Starting today you are laid off.’ I cried. We hugged. They said we’ll be back in two weeks.” She tried to stay open for essential workers and family of those affected by Covid-19, but there wasn’t enough to pay employees.
She closed May 1 and survived by applying for the SBA loan and payroll protection giving most of it to employees who were off work, and needed it for groceries. “May 15 all my employees were able to come back, but SLO capped occupancy at 50 percent. We had guests who wanted to stay, and I had bills to pay. It finally lifted in mid-June and July.
Meanwhile, The Landing like all the California hotels have had to adapt and invest in new protocols. “We now sanitize key cards and stepped up coffee cups in the rooms. We were already sanitizing in rooms. I don’t think the industry will ever go back to operations as they were offered before COVID-19.”
Comparatively, her Monterey County beachfront property is off 30 percent since occupancy was mandated at only 50 percent since Memorial Day “…and no end in sight.”