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Back Bay Inn’s owners hope to hold on to a place they love
Signs outside Vashon Island Realty and the Bank Bay Inn advertise that the longtime Island inn is for sale, but owners Victoria Davies and John “Stormy” Storms hope that when the signs come down, they will still be the owners of the inn and their home next door.
The problem they are facing seems straight from the day’s headlines: Next month their interest rate is going up, and they cannot afford the increase.
They are faced with selling the restaurant or refinancing — something that so far has proved elusive.
“Business has been good,” Davies said. “Our numbers are good.”
“We have been growing at a good pace,” Storms added.
But because the business is not yet two years old and has had profitable months but is not yet in the black, Storms said they are not able to refinance through the traditional route of a bank and are looking into alternative forms of refinancing.
Davies and Storms have owned the Back Bay since Aug. 14, 2006, and opened the inn on Sept. 6 of that year and the restaurant on Oct. 5. In the nearly two years since then, in addition to offering dinner and Sunday brunch, they have added a deck, hosted multiple musicians, created a guest chef series and provided food for large community functions, including the spring PTSA auction and the recent Wine and Jazz Fusion during the Strawberry Festival.
When they opened in 2006, their plan was to be a vital and vibrant part of the community, according to Davies, and the community has responded in kind.
“Our (for sale) sign was up for three minutes, and we had calls from all over the neighborhood, saying, ‘What are you doing?’” Davies said. “Musicians have offered to do fundraisers for us.”
“That’s not what we need,” she added, stressing that the offers are heart warming and they are grateful for them. “What we need is a good interest rate.”
Storms and Davies have had many conversations with people about how to keep the Back Bay.
“Everyone’s brain is spinning to see how to make it work,” Davies said, noting that their lawyer recently talked about the benefits to potential private investors.
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Storms said that they bought the business and home with hard money but had a slightly higher interest than they would have liked and knew that their interest rate was scheduled to go up now. Their hope was, Davies said, to establish a relationship with their bank’s management by now so that this situation could be avoided. But the bank has had management changes, and decisions about their refinancing came from off-Island, she said, from people “who do not know who we are or what we’re doing.”
At press time, no one had made a serious offer to buy the restaurant and home, the price of which is set at $1, 850,000, and Davies and Storms said they would welcome talking to anyone who might be seriously interested in investing or have a creative solution.
They have many dreams for a long future at the Back Bay: to cover the deck and finish the outdoor cooking area, host local wine nights as they did recently with Palouse Winery, and create a picnic area in the grass in the back so that people could bring a blanket and a picnic — maybe order wine and dessert—and enjoy the view frequent summer music.
They would also like to host more retreats for businesses and community groups. The restaurant is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays, so groups could have a lot of privacy and space.
“We can offer package deals to make it fun and exciting and a win-win for everyone,” Davies said.
The economic realities of living on a small Island can be hard, with a limited pool of people to support businesses.
“We need to be a destination,” Davies said, and to that end, she and Storms have invited an independent radio broadcaster to meet with them and some other Island businesses soon to do a piece on Vashon. The program will air on Aug. 16; more information will be available closer to when the program airs.
The Back Bay Inn first opened in 1992, with Dan and Stacey Wolczko, who built the inn, as owners. In 1999, they was sold it to Robert Stowe, with Tom Stewart and his Development Services of America as silent partners. In 2002, Sam and Jana Rentfro bought the business and adjacent home, with Sam selling both two years ago to Davies and Storms.
Someone commented on this history to Davies, noting that ownership seems to change every few years.
“We have to break that cycle,” Davies said.
The future is uncertain at the Back Bay, but Storms and Davies are clear about their aspirations and their feelings about Vashon, where they said people have rallied around them — and rally around others when in need.
“Our intent is to stay open until it is settled one way or the other,” Storms said, with their clear preference being to keep the business.
“It just feels like we’re supposed to stay, “ Davies said. “It just doesn’t feel finished.”
Regardless of the outcome, they do not plan to leave the Island.
“We will stay on Vashon. Absolutely. Davies said. “This is home.”