This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when women were granted the right to vote. New England had its share of suffragettes, and through the last century has also seen trailblazing women chart the course in many pursuits, including the fickle, challenging hospitality business.
Meet Elizabeth Gabriel Brooke, owner of the popular luxury inn Gabriel’s in Provincetown. Brooke bought the inn in 1979, and today Gabriel’s is the longest continuously run woman-owned inn in New England.
“My mother, Eleanor Clemens Dix, still alive at 102, was born before the 19th Amendment,” says Brooke. “Her mother, Eleanor Collins Clemens, was always proud that she was one of the first women in her city to walk to the voting booth.”
Brooke made her pilgrimage to P’town from Quiogue, N.Y., a tiny hamlet on the eastern end of Long Island where her mother still lives in the family house that was built in 1938, the year of the Great Hurricane.
“I originally came to Provincetown for a New Year’s celebration and immediately fell in love with the town,” says Brooke. “I was fresh out of graduate school with a degree in art and education and hoped to find a job teaching here.”
But the job market for teachers was “on the wane,” and without any teaching job prospects in sight, Brooke found a retail position. “That job led to my purchase of Gabriel’s with backing from my then business partner, Christina Davidson, and her husband, Bill.” Brooke ran the inn, while her life partner at the time, Laurel Brooke, contributed carpentry skills, she says.
And those skills were badly needed. “The original buildings were a wreck,” says Brooke. “Years of neglect had rendered them uninhabitable. Ceilings were collapsed from leaks, there was graffiti on the walls, the foundation was rotted. With a crew of around seven women, we ripped the rooms and apartments apart and rebuilt.”
The inn was also rebuilt on trust. “We ran a bare-bones establishment renting rooms for $25 a night,” says Brooke. “We left all rooms open, and if someone came in the middle of the night, they left the money in a box.”
Eventually Brooke bought two adjacent buildings, added a large garden courtyard, and Gabriel’s evolved into what it is today, a lovely property, known for its 20 spacious guest rooms and apartments that are named for celebrated women like Julia Child, Agatha Christie, Jane Goodall, and Katharine Hepburn. Many guest rooms have fireplaces and Jacuzzis, and a full breakfast (Bananas Foster pancakes, blueberry stuffed French toast, omelets, mimosas) is served each morning prepared by an entertaining chef. The inn has a winning location in the middle of town, just a skip from the restaurants, shops, and nightlife along Commercial Street. On Brooke’s wish list is a “well-being room” for guest massages, aromatherapy, and reiki to enhance the inn’s reputation as “a getaway for peace and comfort.” Rates begin at $110 per night in the offseason and $430 in the summer, including breakfast (except midweek in the offseason).
The inn’s success can be attributed to three things: longevity, tradition, and familiarity, says Brooke. “We have guests who bring their children and now grandchildren to our breakfast table. The stories that have been shared around our breakfast table, and the friendships made, make it all worthwhile.” The biggest compliment, she says, is when guests who were “opposites” become friends and ask, “When are you returning next year? We would love to come at that time, too.”
“I am very proud,” says Brooke of her distinction of owning the longest continuously run woman-owned inn in New England. “I love my town and I love that my inn is located at the base of the Pilgrim Monument.”
Brooke is also founder of the Women Innkeepers of Provincetown, an organization that has been around for 35-plus years. “Sadly, I see less women-owned inns or even businesses in Provincetown,” says Brooke. “At our height, there were 15 member inns in our group. We are now just four. I attribute this to real estate values going through the roof and properties often purchased to be converted to condominiums or private homes. Airbnb has altered the playing field, making it harder and harder to compete.”
But Brooke is hopeful. “For the big picture, we hope that more women would arrive at our doorstep to invest and with questions about creative business opportunities in Provincetown,” says Brooke. “We would love the opportunity to support and mentor their entrepreneurial ambitions.”
And, perhaps, to give them a vote of confidence.
For more information on Gabriel’s, visit www.provincetownhotel.com. Laurie Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.