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The Star Democrat

October 19, 2014

The Tidewater Inn ballrooms
The Tidewater Inn ballroom
Historic Tidewater Inn
Tidewater Inn front building
event venue rental
black and white hotel room
tidewater inn outdoor events
restaurant accommodations
outdoor tent wedding

EASTON — The Tidewater Inn is in the celebration business. After 65 years in the building as it stands today at 101 E. Dover St. in Easton and five years under the managing ownership of John Wilson, business is booming even more than before.

Throughout the years, the Tidewater Inn has become more than a place for visitors to rest. It has become a landmark of downtown Easton and a place to dine, enjoy events and celebrate both memories made and in the making.

“The center of the community is where people think of when it’s celebration time — whether it’s Easter buffet, Thanksgiving dinner, a party, an anniversary, a wedding — that they think of that central place to go, and they’ve gone there many times and they love going there,” Wilson said. “A thriving community needs some places that are stable and centered and part of the community where they do those celebrations.”

Wilson is the managing owner of the Tidewater Inn. He and 14 other local investors purchased it on Oct. 15, 2009.

Since then, Wilson and company have tried to restore Tidewater Inn’s reputation as the place to go for celebrations of all kinds. They’ve exceeded their goals, he said.

The Tidewater Inn has not always been as it stands today. Though the current structure has been there, completed since 1949, it was originally known as the Hotel Avon — a wood-framed structure built in 1891 and destroyed by a fire in 1944.

In 1947, Arthur Johnson Grymes — a local businessman whose ghost is rumored to still haunt, albeit benevolently, the inn’s halls, Wilson said — broke ground and built the steel-framed, brick building. It was opened Sept. 3, 1949, and 4,000 people gathered there for the occasion.

“What I remember most about the Tidewater was the elegance,” said Easton Mayor Bob Willey, referencing the Gold Ballroom in the mid-1950s and the “rich and famous” who used to frequent the Tidewater.

Willey said the Tidewater became “one of the anchors of downtown.”

Ownership changed several times throughout the years. Wilson’s group, Coastal South, acquired the Tidewater through auction after the previous owner, Josh Freeman, died in a tragic helicopter crash.

Wilson said that after Freeman died, “the facility was kind of rudderless for a period of time.”

Wilson said he and his group thought the building, with it’s “wonderful public spaces, high ceilings, beautiful molding,” could be used to it’s fullest potential as a place where the community holds its celebrations, as it was known to do in previous years.

Willey said that now, the Tidewater is heading in the right direction, and expects it to get more popular and stronger than ever.

“The Tidewater has served that way most of its years. It has been a center for downtown Easton and Talbot County, and obviously the history of it, with all the famous people that come here, from Elvis, to Jack (John F.) Kennedy, Jackie Gleason,” he said. “Just all the locals have come here forever and they think of it as their place, and they should, and that’s a real part of vibrant communities.”

If you enjoy people celebrating, it’s a very rewarding experience, Wilson said.

“It’s the reason I’m in the business, is that over time, our staff and people around us enjoy creating the environment for people to do that, to be happy and to celebrate and to fulfill some of their interests and their dreams and their wants,” he said.

In the five years since Wilson’s group has owned the Tidewater Inn, the renovations haven’t stopped — new air conditioning and heating systems, roof segments, room remodeling, painting, operating systems, employee bathrooms, a courtyard, parking lot, and an outside tent built by a New England-based boat building company.

“We touched every part of this building. Every closet, every floor; we touched it all, and we have more to do, but we’ve done a lot in five years,” Wilson said. “It’s been a constant investment and we think of it as ongoing, so we will be another five years of constant renovation. We are fortunate to be able to continue to invest money back into the facility.”

Hunters’ Tavern reopened in 2009 shortly after the group bought it, Wilson said. The Gold Ballroom, which was first built as an addition in 1954 and planned to be a spa under Freeman’s plan, was completely revamped and reopened soon after the restaurant did, he said.

Bruce Berrier, owner of Berrier’s Menswear across the street from the Tidewater on the corner of Harrison and Dover streets, said the building, and the Tidewater’s reputation, has never been in better shape.

The Tidewater also has a big effect on the mood of the merchants of Easton, Berrier said. If it’s doing well, businesswise, other business owners in town think the same, he said.

And it’s no illusion, either.

“The thing about people and celebrations, what we learned a long time ago, is they spend more per person than even normal tourism, because they’re coming here to celebrate an event,” Wilson said. “It’s a happy thing, it’s an uplifting thing and they tend to spend more per person in the local environment.”

Willey said that when people come to Easton for a special event, like a wedding at the Tidewater, the same people tend to frequent downtown restaurants and shops.

The same also goes for other downtown staples, because when business is going well, the businesses are doing well together, and it makes the town a more lively place, Willey said.

“Take the street concerts that we had this past summer,” Willey said. “The area around the Tidewater was just alive with folks.”

Willey said the Tidewater was always the place he went to for special events.

Steve Shearer — third-generation owner of Shearer the Jeweler, which has been in Easton since 1926 — said what has evolved from the most recent ownership of the Tidewater has been nothing but positive.

Shearer echoed what Willey and Berrier said, that when there are events going on, many at the Tidewater, there are more visitors to the downtown area.

“Every week someone comes in and, ‘Where are you staying?’ ‘We’re at the Tidewater.’” Shearer said.

But, Wilson said for him it’s not about making a profit.

“If people say to me, ‘Oh, well, you guys, it’s just about making money.’ That’s not the case at all. We’re trying to have a thriving business in a thriving community,” Wilson said. “The profit motive is pretty far down on the list.”