Divine intervention

Tarrs say decision to sell Ashford Inn a bittersweet one

January 12, 2014

Some things are just meant to be.

That’s how Patty and Mason Tarr said they felt when they first stepped foot into The Ashford Inn some 7 1/2 years ago, and it’s how they feel today as they prepare to end their Sampson County journey and begin another one some eight hours away.

There is sadness mixed with joy over their decision to sell the popular bed and breakfast, the couple said, both attesting to their love of the community and the many, many people who have enriched their lives and helped to make their business the thriving success it has been since they took ownership of it.

“It’s bittersweet,” Patty Tarr said, fighting back tears. “It’s hard not to cry when I think of the many, many memories and all the wonderful people here. It’s like leaving family. This is such a great community. Truthfully, I don’t want to think about it … it’s all just too emotional.”

Her husband agrees. “I didn’t know there were so many rewards from being in a community and becoming a part of a community. Both personally and professionally, this has just been amazing. We are going to miss it … everything about it.”

But, at the same time, the Tarrs are looking forward to the next journey, one that will take them closer to the family they’ve not been able to see nearly as much as they would have liked, a family that is expanding with little ones they want to spend time with and watch grow.

It was that desire — they have great nieces and nephews who are under the age of 5 — to spend time with the youngest members of their family that led the Tarrs to their decision to seek out new owners for the inn late last year.

They call what happened “divine intervention.

“It’s really nearly a mirror image of how we came about buying The Ashford Inn,” Patty Tarr recalled, describing how she and Mason found the soon-to-be owners, Julie and Eric Stadig of Virginia, through the Professional Association of Innkeepers.

On that site was Julie Stadig’s name, indicating she was an aspiring innkeeper.

“We made contact,” the Tarrs said, and then one Sunday morning, after a busy B&B weekend for the inn, Stadig called, was in Clinton and wanted to come by to see the place.

“It was crazy around here that morning,” Patty Tarr recalled. “We’d done the kitchen dishes but the beds weren’t made, but we asked her to come by anyway, and she instantly fell in love with the house.”

Her reaction, the Tarrs said, was a carbon copy of their own the first time they saw it.

“We said all the same things she was saying as she looked at the house. I knew right then and there that this was divine intervention.”

There were other similarities too, like the fact that it was Julie Stadig’s dream to own a bed and breakfast establishment, one she could run much like the Tarrs, half dining and the other half lodging, and that her husband, like Mason Tarr, was the supportive arm to a woman with a mission, a woman who wanted to fulfill a dream.

Those thoughts were only exacerbated when the couple came to visit. “Her husband is supporting her dream much like Mason did mine. It was really uncanny how similar our stories are,” Patty Tarr said, ticking off the fact that both are leaving corporate jobs to take over the inn just as she and Mason did nearly eight years ago.

“This was my dream, not Mason’s,” Tarr said. “And this is Julie’s dream.”

Mason Tarr smiles and pats his wife’s arm. “You know, it takes a really special person to be in this business. Julie knows the business, and has a love for it, just like Patty did.”

It was perhaps those similarities that sealed the deal for the Tarrs who admittedly didn’t want to turn over the business they’d built up to anyone who didn’t see the potential the way they had.

“That’s not meant to be arrogant,” Mason Tarr acknowledges. “It’s just that we had built a business that wasn’t just a bed and breakfast, it was dining and it was lodging, equally, and we really wanted someone to do something similar.”

“I would have felt terribly guilty leaving here if I had thought both parts of the business weren’t a priority,” Patty Tarr interjected. “We built up that (dining) part of the business and made them both work with a lot of help from this great community, and we didn’t want to just hand the business over to someone who didn’t see that potential. Julie and her husband do.”

That Julie Stadig comes from a catering background only adds an exclamation point to the Tarrs belief that this transition will be a perfect fit for all those involved.

“I honestly believe that this is going to be a perfect transition. The faces are going to change but there will be a minimal impact, business-wise,” Patty Tarr stressed. “I really think things will be very, very similar to what people have come to expect when they visit The Ashford Inn.”

The Stadigs will be in town next week, around Jan. 15, and the sale is expected to be final on Jan. 17. The Tarrs said they will be sticking around another week after that to help with a couple of booked parties, and then they’ll be off on their new adventure, leaving the house and the business “in very, very good hands.”

Neither knows exactly what the future holds for them, job-wise, but they are confident that it will be an adventure.

“We’re going to New Jersey where we have a winter rental. We’re going to take a vacation, settle in and then begin to think about what we’ll do next. We’ll find our way. Whatever it is, we’ll be within a hundred miles of all those kids,” Patty Tarr said, smiling.

She wants, she said, sleepovers for the youngsters, time to nurture them, enjoy their laughter and learn from them, even as they learn from her and her husband.

“We took a vacation with everyone last summer, and we had so much fun. When we came back, I was so sad. You know, we’ve been away from our families for most of the time we’ve been here, and it just dawned on us that by the time we could retire, the little ones would be 9 or 10 and we would have lost so much precious time. That’s when we made the decision that we wanted to be closer, that we had to get closer to them all.”

Word has been spreading about the Tarrs decision for several weeks, and sadness has enveloped a community that has loved the couple and their business.

It’s an emotion not lost on the B&B owners, and shared.

“You know people have been so nice. They call, they tell us how much they love us, and it’s all I can do not to break down. In fact, I have broken down,” Patty Tarr said, tears welling up in her eyes once again.

Finishing their eighth holiday season a few weeks ago, the Tarrs said, was like closing a large chapter in their book, poignant and renewing.

“We are going to take so much with us from this place, so many wonderful, wonderful memories. There have been so many life events here, so many special people. I’ve been very humbled to have been a part of this community. People took us in, helped us in every way they could … it’s something we’ll never forget,” Patty Tarr said.

And the couple promises to come back. “Sure we will. We have a lot of friends here, and we are going to be back this way. We love Sampson County and its people. This isn’t goodbye; it’s just something we need and want to do.”

Mason Tarr concurs. “We are leaving a great community. I almost want it to be tomorrow because it’s really hard and it’s really difficult to find the words to say. This is very hard; I really don’t know what to say. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, but I am truly grateful to this community for making us such a part, and to Patty for teaching me so much about hospitality.

“It’s been great, really great,” Tarr said.