East End Essential: Duncan Inn, Jamesport

Duncan Inn, Jamesport, Photo: Courtesy Duncan Kennedy

The quarantine may be over, but the effects of the COVID-19 crisis continue to reverberate across our community. In the first part of this new series on essential businesses, Duncan Inn (1399 Main Road, Jamesport) owner/operator Duncan Kennedy talks about how his lovely motel became a place of respite for guests who had to self-isolate, relocate and find comfort in a trying time.

Talk about how business has changed over the past few months
It feels like we’re in a new normal with guests. They have a lot more questions around cleaning rituals and procedures, what’s open, what’s not open, what to do around the local area. So all of that requires a lot of back and forth before they make any decisions. So the decision making process is extended which means the call volume is rather high. Then, also, there’s the simple fact that it takes longer to service a room because we have to do all the longer disinfecting, which is good, but people want to arrive here early and often can’t get a room until [later in the day]. Most people are okay once you explain it to them. Those are good challenges to have, to be honest. It’s a different way of working. We’ve had to be flexible. Also, people are looking to stay longer and are looking to get into the restaurants and winery and generally relax and have a vacation. With restrictions everywhere, that does make that a little challenging.

Your clientele must have changed quite a bit during March and April.
At the peak of the quarantine there were no real tourists, it was frontline workers, families coming in from other states that were self-isolating for 14 days, that type of thing. And also people whose closings got canceled, who were in between apartments and had to find something for a few weeks. 

I’m pretty hands on—as an owner/operator I get into everybody’s business when they check in. At times I’d hang out with some of my guests, light the fire pit, sit socially distanced and chat at night.

How did you work with other local businesses during the quarantine?
Everybody was focused on how to pivot, how to move to another business model and how to survive. Most people were in that mode and then we moved into Phase 1 and Phase 2 to constantly change and modify how we operated. I’m very good though, I believe, in knowing what the guests want. I know they’re going to want to eat out, I know they’re going to want to have an adult beverage, they’re going to want to go places. So I did a lot of reaching out myself to see how that could work best with them. What could I do better to help delivery or curbside pickup? I did a lot of that.

What are some concerns and challenges you face going forward?
I have a lot of regular guests and a lot are from Western Nassau, New York City and Brooklyn and the vast majority realize that masks and social distancing are required. Am I nervous? I’m nervous of the people that make assertions that it’s not necessary to wear masks or distance. We’re going to have a lot of visitors and it looks like it’s going to be like this all summer. I make sure my guests are prepared for when they go out. I remind them to follow the procedures in restaurants. I’m a believer that most people are following those rules.

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