SEARSPORT, Maine — Dawn and Cassidy Gintz, a mother and daughter who live in and run a New England bed-and-breakfast together, forgive you in advance for thinking of them as a real-life version of the TV show “The Gilmore Girls.”
They, too, are fans of the show, about a single mother and her daughter who live in fictional Stars Hollow, Connecticut, where a bed and-breakfast is central to the story. For them, it hits close to home.
“I think I’ve watched the series 10 times,” Cassidy Gintz, 24, said.
“There are certain storylines where you think, ‘Is someone watching us?’ It really is like our life story.”
But rather than a quirky, fictional town, she and her mother, Dawn Gintz, 53, made their way from Tampa, Florida, to the very real midcoast community of Searsport in 2019 when they purchased the Captain Nickels Inn on East Main Street. They traded their southern lives for the possibilities they saw in the Maine hospitality industry.
Although they have contended with a seemingly endless renovation project and a global pandemic as they have settled into their new home and lives, it’s all been worth it, they said.
“I don’t think there’s been a single day that we thought it wasn’t, or that we regretted it,” Cassidy Gintz said. “Or that we wish we could go back. We have certainly had hard, hard days. This is hard work. But it’s so much better to be doing hard work for yourself. It’s so rewarding.”
The Captain Nickels Inn was built in the Italianate style in 1874 by Captain Albert V. Nickels, who lived there with his wife, Elizabeth, and their eight children. The rambling sea captain’s home is part of the East Main Street Historic District in Searsport, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, and its copper-crowned widow’s walk is a local landmark.
When the Gintzes decided to make a leap and become innkeepers, they looked all over the country for the perfect property, figuring they’d end up somewhere in the mountains. But the Captain Nickels Inn lured them to the Maine coast.
“This beautiful house kind of caught our attention,” Dawn Gintz said. “It needed somebody to love on it and take care of it.”
They figured they were up to the job, even though it represented a sea change for them. Previously, Dawn Gintz was a medical dosimetrist, designing radiation treatment plans for cancer patients, a job she loved. Cassidy Gintz, who had harbored a longtime dream of one day owning a bed-and-breakfast, was running her own pet sitting business in Florida. They believe they each bring different strengths to their new enterprise.
“I always say that Mom and I are right-brained versus left-brained,” Cassidy Gintz said. “She handles the business side. I design all of our rooms and I cook.”
Cassidy Gintz brings something else, too: a passion to be independent and work for herself.
“I think my generation has a lot of gumption to it,” she said. “No one’s ever told me in my entire life that I couldn’t do something. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do something.”
Left to right, The ballroom of the Captain Nickels Inn in Searsport, where the innkeepers have just completed a multi-year renovation project. One of the rooms in the Captain Nickels Inn’s newly renovated Captain’s Suite. Abigail Curtis | BDN staff
What they have endeavored to do in Maine is make the Captain Nickels Inn into the kind of place that turns guests into repeat visitors year after year. The nearly 10,000-square foot home overlooking Penobscot Bay had long been a bed-and-breakfast, and the Gintzes wanted to freshen it up while still maintaining its historic elegance. They’ve worked closely with R.H. Lambeth Builders of Stockton Springs to do the renovations, which included fixing the leaking widow’s walk as well as sprucing up nearly all of the rooms.
They replaced worn wall-to-wall carpets with wooden floors that look historically correct, they’ve added insulation and redone the aging electrical system.
“We’ve really tried to make sure we kept the historic integrity of the house, but for safety reasons, we’ve made some big changes,” Dawn Gintz said. “We don’t put a Band-Aid on it. When we go into a room, it’s perfect when we’re done.”
The Gintzes also were able to purchase a three-acre parcel of land that was originally part of the property and which gives them and their guests access to the water.
Their efforts seem to align with current revitalization work happening elsewhere in Searsport. The Maine Department of Transportation is working on a big rebuild of U.S. Route 1, which will include new sidewalks and lighting downtown and a municipal broadband project aims to create a town-owned, high-speed fiber-optic utility that would provide internet access for every home in the community. As well, new restaurants and businesses are beginning to fill downtown storefronts.
“We definitely feel that we got in on the ground floor,” Dawn Gintz said.
Locals have seemed to be excited about the work at the inn, they said.
“I think the community is very tickled,” she said, adding that when they redid the widow’s walk, they took off the cupola and it sat in the parking lot for about a month and a half. “We had so many people stop and take a picture with it. It was like a celebrity, all on its own.”