Guest rooms were being cleaned, door trim was being painted and the baby was being fed.
All part of the routine for Rakesh Patel, 37, and his wife, Anjita, 31, young parents and now young owners of one of the Wildwoods’ iconic mom and pop motels.
“My wife and I are both risk-takers. It seemed like the logical next step to go as big as you can,” Rakesh Patel said of the couple’s decision to purchase the AA Heart of Wildwood Motel.
The sale came with two motel buildings with 74 rooms and two swimming pools, four Boardwalk stores, and a four-plex with additional parking. It also quickly turned the Patels into part of the next generation of moms and pops so closely associated with the Wildwoods.
“I think it’s super,” said Steve Tecco, president of the Greater Wildwoods Hotel and Motel Association and owner of the Armada Motel in Wildwood Crest. “You get young ideas and fresh ideas.”
Tecco, whose family has been in the local motel business since 1967, welcomed the addition of young families to the island’s tourism industry. According to the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, the island is home to 214 motels and hotels and has an estimated 8,000 rooms.
“The last 15 to 20 years it has been the exception not the rule to see young people coming in,” he said.
Standing beside the motel’s rooftop pool, Patel looked out across the beach lined with amusement piers on either side.
“The winter was bad, so we’re hoping people will come out this summer,” he said of his hopes for the couple’s first season.
Using the Wildwoods Convention Center calendar as a guide, they plan to open later this month and expect to stay open well into October with hopes of hosting as many conventioneers, barbershop quartets and young athletes as they can.
“It’s a lot more work than we imagined,” he said of the few weeks since the March closing on the property took place.
The core staff he inherited from the previous owners are back to work cleaning and making any repairs. The pool has already been redone, and he is looking to make other improvements such as adding new televisions next season.
But while preparing to open presents its own challenges, Patel said the challenges they faced prior to closing were much more difficult.
The couple operated a pub and inn in England before moving to Wildwood and, after selling that business, they decided to move. Anjita grew up in London, but Rakesh came from Pennsylvania and spent plenty of summers at the Jersey Shore.
“With a family, I didn’t want to be in the bar industry any more,” he said.
So they started looking for a motel here, considering locations in Ocean City and Wildwood.
They came across the AA Heart of Wildwood and liked what they saw, but more than a year passed between the day they first viewed the property and the closing.
“It’s so hard to get loans,” he said of the financing difficulties that delayed the sale. “It was too easy to get loans in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, it’s too difficult.”
But, finally, with a loan in hand and about a 25 percent down payment, they were able to buy the $5.8 million motel and start their new venture.
“For me, it’s been quite overwhelming with the arrival of a new baby and coming into a new place,” Anjita said as she fed 3-week-old Alana. Their 20-month-old son Khai was napping.
She added, “It’s exciting to try and become part of the community.”
Rakesh Patel said he kept the previous owner, Mary Erceg, on as a consultant to guide them through their first season.
“That eases the transition,” he said.
As the Patels readied for the summer, Tom Cvetkowski, 39, and his wife, Michele, 40, were also busy cleaning rooms, redoing landscaping and completing other tasks at their the Pyramid Motel in Wildwood Crest.
Their motel is far from the hubbub of the Boardwalk (sitting at the far end of Wildwood Crest not far from the beach), but like the Patels they are anxious and excited about their first season as a mom and pop operation.
The 72-gallon fish tank in the lobby was Cvetkowski’s latest project, complete with scaled-down versions of ancient pyramids and other ruins in keeping with the motel’s name.
With 2-year-old son Mason in tow, Michele said she was ready for what represented a new beginning for her young family.
“It’s just totally different. I came from the corporate world,” she said of her work as an executive assistant in New York City. “I am ready to spend time with the family.”
For Tom Cvetkowski, family drew him into the business. His father and brother are also in the local motel business, first opening here in the 1980s, so running his own seemed natural.
And the 28-unit Pyramid, with its quiet location near the beach at St. Paul Road, seemed the perfect place for the couple’s first foray into the motel industry on Five Mile Beach.
“I liked the size, the location and it was in good condition,” Cvetkowski said as he walked around the pool area.
He knows the island well, and growing up in the industry has given him an appreciation for the life he has chosen. The staff, for instance, will be Cvetkowski, his wife and four maids.
“There’s nothing better than working by the beach,” he said. “And nothing better than being your own boss.”
The Pyramid will open its doors in May and, with an established clientele, Cvetkowski said he expects to be busy.
“We’re wiping everything down, washing the rugs, vacuuming, making sure everything is working,” he said as a Verizon technician stopped by to fix a problem with the phones.
Two-year-old Mason was already in on the action, wearing his toddler-sized Pyramid Motel T-shirt.
“There’s just a renewed interest in mom and pops,” said Realtor Sandra Richardson.
Just two year ago, she said, potential buyers were often investors not interested in being part of the day-to-day operations. “There weren’t these young people willing to be mom and pops,” she said.
Richardson said she talks to would-be buyers first about the financial realities of what they’re getting involved in and whether they can purchase the properties, fund the daily operations, pay for annual debt service and still make a living.
“They have to pay their mortgage and make some income,” she said.
In addition, the owners have to be ready to handle everything from rowdy guests to broken pipes on any given day,
“It’s a day-and-night 24/7 operation,” she said.
But it’s a challenge both couples say they are ready to take on this summer with hopes of passing the business down the line.
“We’re looking forward to making a nice home for our children here,” Anjita Patel said.
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