The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel
Dixville Notch, New Hampshire
From Caddy to Managing Partner of a Grand Resort Hotel
Stephen Barba is one of the few people who can lay claim that he has worked at only one place his entire life. Stephen was only 13 years old when he began working as a caddy in 1959 at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, the majestic 19th century resort hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In the 1950s, the large resorts in the Northeast were in remote locations. Because there were not enough boys available to carry golf bags for the golfers, caddy camps were established to attract interested candidates. Although Stephen started out as a caddy, he soon worked his way up to other jobs at the resort. "I worked at every available job, including bellman, car-runner, busboy, waiter in both the dining room and bar, and bartender. I labored every summer at The Balsams for 18 years. My wages helped pay for college tuition and graduate school," Stephen commented. He had planned to be a professor of English but an opportunity presented itself that would define Stephen's life's work. It is interesting to note that both Stephen and The Balsams reached a crossroads at the same time.
"In the 1960s, most of the remaining grand resorts were in financial trouble. The resort managers were leaving after a year or two, so there was no cohesiveness in leadership. As a result, the resorts were dying, one-by-one, around the country and it looked as though The Balsams' days were numbered also. When Warren Pearson joined the staff to run its Alpine Ski School in 1966, he and I spoke often about this dire situation, and eventually the resort's owner gave us an opportunity we could not refuse. He offered us the chance to manage the hotel as partners. This would be a challenge, as we were young (I was 24 and Warren was 28) but we accepted the offer and threw ourselves into the work of resurrecting The Balsams. We worked night and day, and were single-minded in our mission," Stephen recalled. Their passion spilled over to fellow staff members and they came up with a winning formula that would have guests returning for their exceptional hospitality. After three years, there was a return guest rate of 86%.
The two men remained managing partners for over 31 years until Warren passed away several years ago. They shared a large office with wraparound windows facing the lobby. That office tells a lot about their ongoing philosophy of having an open environment and hands-on style of management. They continued the American-plan style of hostelry (guests get to experience "all the house has to offer") at The Balsams. This is the plan that was implemented from the beginning when, in 1866, The Balsams was known as the Dix House and was just a mere 25-room way station for travelers passing through. Stephen is alone in his office now, but he continues to look out upon the lobby at guests who return to his hotel to enjoy the fruit of his labor. "It has a sense of 'home' about it," Stephen says.
"I owe a lot to The Balsams. My love of golf, of mountains, of freedom - all of that grew here." And if The Balsams could speak, she would say, "Thanks to Stephen Barba and his lifelong efforts to rescue and perpetuate me, generations of families will continue to return to enjoy my vibrant, spontaneous hospitality and treasured traditions."
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