WILDWOOD - Grace Krause was happy to take the Finerfrock family on a tour around the LeVoyageur Motel, the business she and her husband have owned since 1987.

She pointed out all the highlights - clean, well-kept bathrooms, a swimming pool, the sundecks and the short distance to restaurants and other attractions. Leslie Finerfrock, her husband, Rick, and their children Heather, 19, and Douglas, 10, of Bellmawr, liked what they saw.

"We come down every year," Leslie Finerfrock said, adding that, while they come for the beach and amusements, hospitality is equally important.

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"The bigger hotels are more impersonal. I like the small places," she said as the tour neared its end.

Here, on an island lined with mom and pop operations, smaller is better. Of the island's more than 100 motels, just one is part of a national chain, the rest are owner-operated by moms and pops. They are often the first people visitors encounter and the impression they leave determines if those visitors will come back to Five Mile Beach for another season.

"We even have women in their robes come down, get coffee and go back to their rooms," Dennis Krause said with a smile. "The men come in (to the hospitality room), talk about sports and have a cup of coffee."

In 2010, the state room occupancy tax, which charges a 1.85 percent tax on motel rooms in the Wildwoods, generated $1.54 million in revenue. That money supports the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority's marketing and advertising budget.

That figure represents $83.2 million in revenues generated by motel and hotel stays for the year in the Wildwoods.

That level of comfort and familiarity distinguishes places such as the 23-unit LeVoyageur from any grand 1,000-room hotel.

Here, when the owner says I'm heading home, he means the ground-level unit that sits just across from the pool and below four of the motel's units.

"We enjoy the people," Dennis Krause said as he rattled off the names of countless guests who come back year after year.

"We had Emma Pratta. On Sunday, she'd make her meatballs and pasta and we'd get a little," Dennis Krause said.

He proudly showed off a photo album, its pages somewhat yellowed, showing visitors who have spent part of their summers at the motel playing by the motel pool or enjoying the popular hot dog roasts.

"We run it like it is our house, which it is," Grace Krause said.

And every homeowner knows that means chores.

Dennis Krause laughed as he remembered something his father said nearly 25 years ago when the couple, both originally from New York, decided to move to the Jersey Shore.

"You're buying a place with 34 bathrooms. Good luck."

The bathrooms, particularly the gleaming circa 1967 blue tiles around the bathtubs, still look new thanks to cleaning and an attention to maintenance.

Grace Krause largely handles the front desk and the flurry of reservations and visitor questions that come with it.

Dennis Krause also works the front desk, but focuses more on the motel's maintenance such as his most recent project - painting the walls of the motel's heated swimming.

The couple also employs three housekeepers and two maintenance workers to get the place up and running.

"Usually, by May 15, the place is purring like a kitten," Dennis Krause said.

The motel is believed to have been built in 1967 by the Regalbuto family and the Krauses bought it in 1987 from Joe and Anne Salerno.

It sits on the 200 block of East Andrews Avenue and the top deck offers a view of the Great White rollercoaster at Morey's Pier and other attractions closer to the Boardwalk.

A collection of post cards show what the motel looked like in the beginning. There was no swimming pool and other units were added to the first floor. The pool was added in 1980, replacing parking at the front of the motel.

The Krauses have also purchased an adjacent house, which they rent out each year.

While the motel, still has the typical L-shaped look outside, the couple has also worked to upgrade the interior, a mix of 1-room units, and two-room suites and efficencies, by adding 21st-century additions like flat screen televisions and wall connections that allow children to hook up their gaming systems.

Over the years, they've added bars in the bathtubs to help those with disabilities, switched to electric fire alarms and installed telephones, which were not present in the rooms when they bought the motel.

"There used to be speakers in the walls and we'd call to let them know there was a call," Dennis Krause said.

At the rear of their own unit, they wash the towels and other linens with the exception of sheets that are sent out for cleaning.

"What you do is geared to what people request," Dennis Krause said, pointing to more recent additions such as wireless internet access and the popularity of the Trip Advisor Web site, a tool many motels use to monitor how they're doing.

"I try to do things maintenance-free," he said.

The couple also display their personality in places like the hospitality room, complete with a Yankees pennant, and in the motel office, with a prominent display of the Ten Commandments.

"Our living room is right off the office," Grace Krause said.

The motel becomes more like a small neighborhood in season with guests who need a little sugar for cooking stopping by to ask for a cup.

The families come generation after generation and the Krause's get invitations to weddings and other family functions.

"You're living with everybody that comes here," Grace Krause said.

Soon, the preparations will give way as guests start to arrive from May through mid-October.

Then, the work really begins.

How busy are they?

"Oh, busy, very, very busy," Grace Krause said, the memories of season's past fresh in her mind. "It's literally all day. People coming in, coming out. They need change for the washer or directions to a restaurant. The phones are ringing," she said.

And the Krauses, who are looking at selling the motel they've operated for 25 seasons, will continue to answer them for now.

"You have to put in the time and you need to like dealing with people," Dennis Krause said.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:




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