The only hotel and restaurant combination in remote Zeballos has found itself on the edge of extinction.
A series of unfortunate events, starting with the 2018 wildfires, continuing through Western Forest Products’ eight-month-long strike, and culminating in the recent pandemic has hurt Cedars Inn to the point where ownership is considering shutting its doors. According to co-owner Christina Lepore, the village’s sole restaurant, Blue Heron — operated by hotel staff — would also cease operations.
In 2018 the hotel was among the properties under an evacuation order for seven months due to the wildfire and landslides that hit Zeballos. The closure cost about $500,000, said Lepore. This year as cancellations poured in due to COVID-19, the financial loss stands at $150,000.
With all the setbacks, Lepore felt she was “going backwards” business-wise. Despite the relief offered for small businesses by the federal and provincial governments, Lepore felt that it still did not “fix the situation” of her business, primarily because of tourism’s uncertain future.
“It’s too risky to be in tourism now,” she said. “I refuse to take loans if I can’t pay it back.”
Built in 1936 during the peak of the gold rush that help establish the town, the hotel, which was previously a hospital, still retains designs from an era gone by.
Lepore and her husband, Dan O’Connor, bought it in 2003, when it was called Mason Motor Lodge and was the only hotel in town. The 15-room facility usually has full occupancy during summer, with September being its busiest month.
During these months, tourism churns the economic wheels in Zeballos. Most of the clientele comes from the U.K., Europe and the U.S. International tour companies usually book a two-week trip for tourists consisting of lodging at Cedars Inn, meals at the Blue Heron, followed by kayaking and wildlife expeditions.
“Unless a vaccine is developed, I don’t see international tourism picking up,” said Lepore.
Even though Blue Heron is the only restaurant in Zeballos, the customer base from within the village is very small.
“Keeping the restaurant open for two or three people costs more money,” she said.
While future plans are still fluid, Lepore said she is considering turning the building into long-term rental suites.
A couple of bookings still remain for September from people in the vicinity, and with plans to re-open B.C. underway, Lepore wants to wait and see if local tourism might still be able to save the hotel this summer.