On trips as a child to Lake Champlain on the Vermont and New York border, Lexington native Trisha Perez Kennealy said, she always stayed at local inns and was struck by the way the innkeepers made her feel as if she were part of their family.
So when the Dana Retirement Home on Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington announced it was closing in 2010, and put its property up for sale, Perez Kennealy took a tour and had an idea.
The 124-year-old building, which features stained glass windows, tiled fireplaces, and a mural of the Lexington Battle Green on a dining room wall, seemed perfect for conversion into a New England-style inn where she could re-create those warm childhood feelings, Perez Kennealy said.
“It was surprising to me that we didn’t have anything like that in Lexington,” she said.
More than a year later, Perez Kennealy, 41, has purchased the property, which is less than half a mile from the historic Battle Green, with plans to turn it into a small hotel and 54-seat restaurant.
‘It feels to me that the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction.’
The Inn at Hastings Park is the latest in a series of new businesses in or in the works for Lexington Center, which just three years ago was littered with vacancies at some of its key retail storefronts.
Earlier this month, an upscale consignment store, Revolve, opened in space formerly occupied by Waldenbooks, which closed in 2009. Late last year, Panera Bread moved into space left vacant when clothing retailer Cohoes shut its doors several years ago.
In the past three months, Fruitée Yogurt and the Hair Cuttery have opened in the Center on Edison Way and 1686 Massachusetts Ave., respectively. A “coming spoon” sign adorns the window at 1726 Massachusetts Ave. where a second yogurt shop, Orange Leaf, is planning to open by the end of June, and Bend Power Yoga is seeking permits to open on the second floor at 1752 Massachusetts Ave., said the town’s economic development director, Melisa Tintocalis.
Mary Jo Bohart, executive director of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, said the local business climate went the same direction as the entire nation during the economic downturn, but now it’s on the rebound. Bohart said few vacancies remain in Lexington Center, and it’s an exciting time.
“It feels to me that the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction,” she said.
Lisa Castagno, owner of Revolve, which also has two locations in Belmont, said she was attracted to Lexington because she has a large clientele from the area, and there is ample foot traffic in the center of town. When the store opened on May 1, she said, people were happy to see the vacancy occupied with a new business.
“People were actually coming in and thanking me,” Castagno said.
While a few vacancies remain in Lexington Center, including the site of the recently closed Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant on Waltham Street, Tintocalis said it appears that retail is coming back.
At Michelson’s Shoes, which opened in Lexington Center in 1919, owner Jerry Michelson said things are changing in the neighborhood and it’s good to get the activity going.
Michelson, who is also chairman of the Lexington Center Committee, said he thinks the addition of the Inn at Hastings Park will also be good for business because it will help keep tourists in town after they visit Lexington’s historic sites.
Lexington Center hasn’t had an inn since the Battle Green Inn closed five years ago, and Tintocalis said Perez Kennealy’s plans for the former retirement home would address a need for the business area.
“Lexington has a strong tourism economy, but it hasn’t ever really leveraged it,” she said.
While many neighbors have voiced opposition to the inn proposal, saying it doesn’t fit in the surrounding residential area, Town Meeting voted 138 to 44 on May 9 to approve a zoning change paving the way for the project.
Perez Kennealy plans to have 11 guest rooms and her restaurant, with its focus serving classic American fare, in the Dana home. Additional guest rooms will be set up in the neighboring Isaac Mullikan House and an old casket factory.
She is still working on securing all of the permits she needs for the inn, but she’s hoping to open next spring in time for the flurry of events scheduled to celebrate Lexington’s 300th anniversary.
An elected Town Meeting member with degrees from Harvard University and Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts school, Perez Kennealy said she’s hoping her inn will help keep tourists in the community longer, and spur shopping in Lexington Center, as well as becoming a favorite for family and friends visiting local residents.
“That is the ultimate accolade, to have people stay with you time and time again ,” she said.