The day was June 1, 2016 — the day we bought and moved into a dingy roadside motel in Prince Edward County called the Sportsman Motel. This is where our journey as moteliers began.
5 years later, we find ourselves taking a moment of pause to reflect on our journey, particularly those early days when we were filled with a vision of a boutique motel and the wine was flowing.
These are the days where The June came to be. If you want the real story, then here it is. Pour yourself that second cup of coffee, or perhaps a big glass of wine and enjoy.
The day we bought and moved into a motel
THE EARLY DAYS
You know those times in your life when everything is happening so fast it’s almost a blur, but it's somehow still etched in your memory forever? For me, that was the week that we moved into the Sportsman Motel. We had decided to run the motel as it was for that first summer, so that we could learn the business and find money for the renovation. The carpets were musty, the furniture was tired and the only art in the room was a sign that said “No Gutting Fish in Room.” After-all, back then it was a motel designed for fishermen and hunters.
Sign at the Sportsman Motel
We moved into the motel on a Wednesday, and were sold out starting the coming Friday from the previous owners’ reservation books. We had exactly two days to learn everything we needed to know about how to run a motel. How hard could it be?
We built the website, created an online reservation system, painted the 60’s wood paneled lobby white, replaced the horrid flower quilts with fresh white duvets and learned how to make a hotel bed. My mother cleaned the rooms while Sarah’s Dad was the onsite handyman. We had zero staff at this point.
Somehow though, when the guests finally arrived, we were ready for them. We checked them in and out of their rooms, and in between did a ton of laundry and hauled a lot of garbage. Truthfully, at the end of that first weekend as Moteliers, I was like “OMG, what have we done? This was not the vision that we signed up for!”
The #BTS moments that no one tells you about when you start a business!
Did we have experience? Definitely not. Did we have any idea what we were getting ourselves into? Not a chance, we were extremely naïve. Were we even ready? Probably not, but are you ever truly ready to pack-up your things and move into a rundown motel with your best friend?
At this point in the story, if you’re having flashbacks to the latest Schitt's Creek episode, you’re not far off. Life looked pretty similar in that first year, except that the Rosebud Motel was in a lot better condition.
So, we made it through a full summer of running the Sportsman Motel, googling the best fishing holes and managing the boat parking out front of the motel. Trust us, we saw it all! But, motel season was over for the summer and it was time to finally make our vision a reality.
We knew we wanted to play off of the 1960’s era of the motel, and we were inspired by the motels that we had travelled to in California and the ones we were following on Instagram. After all, converting a roadside motel into a trendy boutique motel had been done in other parts of the world, but there was nothing like it close to home. We saw an opportunity to create the next ‘it’ spot for millennials coming to wine country, and to bring our passions for unique travel experiences, design and wine together.
The only problem is that we had zero experience renovating, and certainly hadn’t managed anything on this scale. In fact it was in 2016 when Sarah had to teach me to use a drill for the first time. #lifeskills
It was easy to get overwhelmed with how much we needed to learn about design and renovation. And we didn’t have a lot of money, so whatever we dreamt of doing would need to be done by us, or our friends and family, who at this point were spending almost every weekend at the motel helping us to transform it.
What we needed was a safe space to test out design ideas IRL, and really figure out The June aesthetic. It all started with a retro palm wallpaper that we stumbled upon locally. We instinctively recognized that this wallpaper would create the vibe we were going for - retro, femme, bold and playful. From there, we tested different lighting, decor and furniture until we landed on the perfect room. It was all about experimenting, testing new ideas and seeing what worked together. We learned so much in this process, and in the end we had one guest room that we could start to replicate.
The "after", our finished prototype room. Now known as The Classic room at The June in Prince Edward County!
Over that winter (2016/2017) we tiled the lobby floors, painted the rooms, learned to wallpaper and the property was starting to shape up. But, there was one last big decision to go. What colour would we paint the doors?
Sarah and I both wanted that classic sun faded pink neon door, inspired by the motels we had seen in California and Miami. We tested almost every shade of pink, and then we asked everyone’s opinion - big mistake. Everyone, from our electrician to our mothers were horrified that we wanted to paint the motel doors pink. I think someone even said “no fisherman will stay here if you paint those doors pink!” At this point, we were overwhelmed and calling our very vision into question. These were people we trusted, and not a single one thought pink doors were a good idea - could we really be that off base?
Trying to find that perfect shade of pink...
In the end, we painted our doors a bright, sun faded millennial pink - a color we will forever be crushing on. Today, those doors are one of the most iconic elements of the motel, a design moment that truly defines The June Motel ethos. I love telling this story, because it’s a good reminder that not everyone will be able to see or understand your vision, and that’s ok. It’s important to remember why you started, connect with what drives and inspires you, and always listen to your gut.
@stephsterjovski at The June Motel in 2017
OPENING AS THE JUNE
Fast forward to June 2017, opening day at The June Motel. We unboxed the sofa, hung the pink neon sign, chilled the wine, and finished up some last minute painting. It truly was reno mode until the 11th hour, and we were nervous. Would people like it? Would anyone sign-up for yoga? Would the experience we created be the experience people wanted?
And then our first guests arrived, a group of girlfriends. They came into the Lobby Bar to check in. We poured them a welcome glass of rosé, and then they sat down on the sofa and took a group selfie. And for the first time we thought, “ok, we got this!”
That selfie moment when you arrive at The June
For the rest of that summer, Sarah and I checked guests in and out, poured a lot of wine and sent everyone to our favourite wineries and breweries, so they could fall in love with The County just as we had. We witnessed friends cheersing on their balconies at sunset, or picnicking on the front lawn, and at the end of every day they would all come together and laugh around the campfire.
Our vision was coming to life right in front of our eyes, only it was better than we’d ever imagined. Because in the end, it was never really about the palm wallpaper or the pink doors. It was about creating a place that felt like a throwback to the good ol’ days — where wine is poured, stories are shared and the simple pleasures of life are appreciated — these are the moments that really made The June.
Lobby Bar vibes at The June
Guests coming together around the campfire nightly
OUR MOST ASKED QUESTIONS
To celebrate 5 years, we’ve decided to answer a few of the questions we get asked most on Instagram and from guests at the motels.
HOW DID YOU COME-UP WITH THE IDEA TO BUY A MOTEL?
Sarah and I had always flirted with the idea of quitting our jobs and starting something together, but the timing was never right. That was until January 2016, when Sarah and I got together to brainstorm business ideas over a bottle of wine. We probably brainstormed 40 ideas, but the idea we were most excited about was “Adult Wine Camp”. At this point, it was going to be a side hustle, and we were just searching for the right place to host our weekend retreat. What we loved about it, was it brought together our love for Prince Edward County, wine and designing travel experiences for people.
In the search for the perfect venue, Sarah came across a roadside motel that was for sale. It was dingy, so we were going to restyle the motel aesthetically for the weekend to appeal to our audience of millennial women, who we knew wanted a curated wine weekend. And then it just hit us…. “We should buy that motel!” Everything spiraled from there. A week later we were driving out to Prince Edward County with a realtor, and then 6-months later we found ourselves moving into that dingy roadside motel, and the rest is history!
WHAT DID YOU BOTH DO BEFORE THE JUNE?
Sarah worked as a project manager and business analyst for the Ontario Government, and I worked for a Public Relations agency. We were both based in Toronto, and motelier life was certainly not on our radar! It's funny how life happens. Today, we couldn't imagine life unfolding any other way.
We hope our story is also a good reminder that you can get off the path you're on at any time and start something new. Don't let lack of experience stop you from pursuing a dream.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE AESTHETIC?
While we wish we could say it was well conceptualized from the beginning, Sarah and I have zero training in interior design. We relied a lot on Pinterest to create mood boards and develop the inspiration for what we wanted to create, and then it was very much trial and error as we brought it all to life. So much of how we design spaces is about leaning into what speaks to us, and seeing how it all comes together IRL. We also consulted with a professional interior designer for more technical spaces like the Lobby Bar.
That said, it wasn’t all trial and error, we did start with some core elements that guided The June design, and continues to guide us. We always lean into the era of motel culture, feminine designs, bold choices, and playful elements.
WHERE DID THE NAME “THE JUNE MOTEL” COME FROM?
We get asked this question so often that we almost wish we had a great aunt named June to make the story a little easier to tell! The real story is it was a name that came from a very long brainstorm, fueled by a bottle of wine of course. We really loved the name from the beginning. It’s a retro name that was popular in the 1960’s and it reminded us of that start of summer feeling. You know, when the sun is shining, the wine is chilled, you’re with your people and life is simple, and you have the whole summer ahead of you. That’s what we hoped arriving to The June would feel like. Over the years, we’ve really personified “June”, and often ask ourselves “what would June do” or “if June had a beach house, what would it look like?”
HOW DID YOU FIND THE MONEY TO BUY AND RENOVATE?
When it came to buying and renovating our first motel in Prince Edward County, we had a lot to prove and it required us to get creative about everything, including how we’d finance it all. The place was a dump, and Prince Edward County was not yet the booming tourism destination it is now. In other words, we got a great deal and purchased the motel for less than the price of the average house in Toronto. We purchased the motel with a Vendor Take Back Mortgage (VTM), which means we got a mortgage from the sellers. For the renovation, we applied for a loan through Community Futures Development Corporation, which lends to small businesses across Canada.
The "after" of the exterior motel building
WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO START A BUSINESS?
We’ve learned so many lessons in the last 5 years, and we’re still learning. One lesson that is top of mind today as we grow our business is to always stay focused and be consistent. Focus is the superpower of entrepreneurship. If you can find that one thing that you can do really, really well, and then consistently just do that thing really, really well, then you’re killing it! It’s easy to come up with new, cool ideas all the time. Trust me, we get it, it’s really fun. But as small business owners, we don’t have the time or resources to successfully take it all on, so we have to be hyper focused and selective when it comes to what we say yes to. Over the last year, Sarah has instilled the idea that if it’s not immediately a “hell yes, I want to do that”, then it’s a “hell no”. Try it for yourself the next time an opportunity comes knocking.
Something kind of huge is in the works, and has been for the past few years! We hope to share some big new later this summer. And of course, we’re always on the hunt for that next motel destination. Where should we start looking?
Big things in the works over here, the kind that calls for bubbly.