Summer is a busy time at Lake Champlain resort in Ferrisburgh
FERRISBURGH — Tucked in its scenic, secluded corner of West Ferrisburgh, Basin Harbor Club is off the beaten track for many Addison County residents. In July and August, however, Basin Harbor is a vibrant, bustling community, and an economic driver with an impact that reaches far beyond the rolling golf course and iconic Adirondack chairs that dot the resort property.
Basin Harbor has been owned and operated by the Beach family since its opening 128 years ago. Bob and Pennie Beach are fourth-generation hosts, and Pennie’s daughter Sarah Morris is a fifth-generation host and the director of sales.
“People always ask what it’s like to work with your family. They’re alarmed about the prospect of that dynamic,” Bob Beach said with a laugh during a recent interview. “I think we do a nice job of balancing one another out, of diversifying our expertise.”
Up to 400 guests can be lodged at the resort, which boasts an 18-hole golf course, fine dining at multiple venues, an airstrip, and ample opportunities for waterfront recreation. Basin Harbor is a popular wedding and event destination, with group visits making up about 20 percent of sales.
At least 50 percent of resort guests are returning, Pennie Beach said. Families often come for the same week each summer, and families from different parts of the country that meet at the resort often form lasting friendships and enjoy annual “non-family reunions” at the resort, she added.
Morris said there is one characteristic that adds to the wholesome, rural feel central to the resort’s identity. The area is “blessed and cursed with a lack of cell phone service,” she said.
The resort’s economic impact on Addison County is multi-faceted, Pennie Beach explained. Basin Harbor employs 30 people year-round, and approximately 300 during the height of the summer season.
Employment opportunities are wide-ranging, from managerial and skilled culinary positions, to entry-level wait staff and babysitting positions. Some 40-50 percent of employees generally live within a 50-mile radius of Basin Harbor, and about 125 international or out-of-state employees are housed on-site during the summer season.
The business relies on many local young people for its summer workforce, Morris said.
“Basin Harbor touches so many youthful lives,” Morris said. “There are so many wonderful opportunities for people to work here.”
Chris Donner, who lives in Vergennes, had been a golf member at Basin Harbor for about 10 years before he assumed the role as head of human resources this past January.
He described the summer work environment as “fast-paced, intense and fun.” He said Basin Harbor Club boasts about a 70-75 percent returning summer employee rate and was voted by Vermont Business magazine readers this year as one of the best Vermont small businesses to work for.
That distinction, Donner said, can largely be attributed to the sense of community that the Beach family has long fostered.
“Bob and Pennie always treat their employees like family,” he said.
Donner added that “Bob and Pennie Bucks,” which are given by managers to employees “who go the extra mile,” help to reinforce a positive work environment. Bob and Pennie Bucks can be used toward the purchase of anything (except alcohol) from the club.
In addition to providing a big payroll to local residents, Basin Harbor’s guests also help to stimulate the local economy, the owners said.
“There’s definitely a ripple effect,” Pennie Beach said. “I think we’re kind of under the radar sometimes; people don’t think of us as an economic driver, but we’ve been here for 128 years. There’s great continuity with the community.”
Some of this ripple effect is deliberate: Much of the resort’s food is sourced locally, infrastructure repairs often involve local contractors, and area businesses are promoted as fun destinations.
The guests, in addition to local businesses, recognize this effort.
“Basin Harbor does a great job at sourcing food locally,” said John Seel, who is visiting Basin Harbor this week with his children from Shanghai, China. “It’s great to be able to enjoy foods from local farms.”
The Seel family has been coming to Basin Harbor for 14 years, with family members flying in from Texas, Virginia and China for a weeklong reunion and, as Seel said, their “dose of fresh, country air.”
Like many visitors to Basin Harbor, they frequent local attractions and stores during their annual stay.
“We always enjoy shopping in Vergennes, as well as visiting other local attractions and museums,” Seel said.
Having lived in Ferrisburgh for generations, giving back to the community is more than just a business endeavor for the Beach family, Morris said.
“We’re always keeping our finger on the pulse of the local community,” she said, explaining that the resort collaborates with the community as members of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, the Vergennes Partnership, the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.
“The vitality of Vergennes is very important to us,” said Morris.
Last year, the resort hosted a “color vibe” fundraiser run for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta. Community members raised more than $3,000 for the South Hero camp that helps bring happiness to children battling cancer. Although it was not particularly profitable for the resort, this is the sort of event that Morris said Basin Harbor is proud to offer the community.
This year, Basin Harbor in August will host a “BBQ Bonanza” and in October a “Rocktoberfest,” which it describes as an evening of beer, bacon and bands. Community members are invited to attend both of these. Through events like this, Basin Harbor Club hopes to reinforce the connection with the local community.
Despite a long, intergeneration ownership, running the Basin Harbor Club has not been without its obstacles.
Pennie Beach described the recent recession as “painful,” adding, business has “been going up every year since 2009.”
Additional struggles have arisen over the past decades, necessitating remedial planning.
“Guest expectations have drastically increased,” Bob Beach said, adding that at Basin Harbor, “we have a more personalized relationship with our guests than one might get in a more corporate resort.”
Prompted by the changing expectations, Morris said the management team revamped their strategic plan for operation two winters ago.
“We looked further into the future more than we have in the past,” she said. “The business model of my grandfather’s generation is pretty much out the window now. Things have changed … we have a more educated consumer and more electronic media than in the past. You have to present information to guests differently.”
Despite the challenges that come with business ownership, the Beach family remains optimistic about the future of the Basin Harbor Club.
“We’re hoping to be here for another 100 years,” Bob Beach said. “We’re hoping that our family business will continue to thrive.”
THE BASIN HARBOR Club’s wholesome feel is central to the resort’s identity, and many guests say that’s what brings their families back year after year.
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