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Crown Hotel deserved better

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By GREG HAMILTON, Citrus Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

So, the owners of the Crown Hotel in Inverness, facing foreclosure on their investment, have slipped out of town on a "vacation," leaving their employees in the lurch. Let's hope they're staying at a nice resort somewhere; maybe they can learn something about the hotel business.

Thomas Dryburg and his wife, P.C. Hyland, the owners on paper at least, disappeared over the Labor Day weekend. As far as Inverness police know, they went on a vacation. Evidence at the scene, however, indicates they may be taking an extended trip.

We all are guilty of overpacking for vacations, but how many of us clean out the freezer and take prime cuts of beef on the road? Maybe we take an extra pillow, but all of our comforters? And bar supplies? And expensive security cameras?

At least they left behind the moldy bread.

No, you don't have to be TV's CSI team to see that this is a one-way trip.

Let me be the first to say to them: adios, sayonara, see ya. No need to send a postcard from your vacation destination, although your creditors would appreciate a forwarding address. Hopefully, it's a country that has an extradition agreement with the United States.

From the day in November when the couple took over the historic hotel, they have given the community a textbook lesson in how to ruin a business.

Say you're new in town and you want to establish a customer base. The first thing you'd want to do is antagonize and run off a group like the Rotary Club of Inverness, whose 50-60 members not only provide a steady income by meeting at your hotel each week for lunch but they also are prominent people with discretionary money and wide circles of friends.

Next, you'd want to send a clear message about the value of loyalty to the staff you've inherited by firing as many of them as possible. It's even better if you can do it right before Christmas. Nothing says happy holidays like a pink slip in your Christmas stocking. Ho, ho, ho!

It's axiomatic that the customer is always right, so when a 66-year-old woman appears with a coupon for a discounted meal, you'll want to get into a shouting match with her that ends in physical violence. Customers will flock to your restaurant if there's a chance they can go a few rounds with the owner.

Being in the hospitality industry, you'll want to make your hotel guests feel safe and secure when they bed down for the night. A suspicious fire in the ventilation system, sending your pajama-clad guests scrambling for the parking lot, should do the trick. It's that kind of adrenaline-charged excitement that makes Fear Factor so popular.

If that's not enough to pack 'em in, advertise yourself as a five-star, European spa-type joint, and then book a troupe of knock-off Chippendale male dancers to shake their tail feathers for the local ladies. That puts the a-- in class.

Finally, you've stretched your finances to the breaking point to acquire the hotel, and you want to keep the lenders happy so they will have some patience as you try to get your operation off the ground. The best way to do that, of course, is to stop paying what you owe, forcing them to take legal action against you. That's team-building at its finest. You can all hang out in a courtroom for hours, swapping recipes.

The shame of it all is that the previous owners, Nigel and Jill Sumner, worked so hard for so long to restore the Crown Hotel to its rightful spot as the jewel of downtown Inverness only to see all of their efforts fall apart so quickly.

Dryburg and Hyland didn't have to look very far to see how a real hotel restoration could be accomplished. The owners of the Plantation Inn in Crystal River spent several million dollars refurbishing that grand dame, and it shows. The Plantation is now situated for many more years of top-notch service to the community.

The Crown, on the other hand, is left staggering, with a pile of unpaid bills, owners on the lam and employees asking the police if they should simply padlock the doors and walk away.

I can't help but think that there are sunnier days ahead for the Crown. Anything would be better than this sorry episode which, mercifully, seems to be coming to a close.

Already, its luck may be turning.

At least when the owners skipped town, the old wooden palace didn't happen to catch fire.

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