Route 66 News

Company aims to restore vintage Route 66 motels

At roadie gatherings over the years, there’s long been watercooler talk about the need for someone to buy up old Route 66 motels, renovate them to retain the old-time charm, yet offer amenities that modern travelers expect.

It looks like Smalltown America Inns, Lodges and Motels aims to step into that role. Its motto is: “Where we’re bringing back Smalltown Americana — one motel at a time!”

I spoke by conference call Monday to Richard Talley, president of Smaltown America; his wife Gail, a major investor; and Rom Corbel, vice president. Talley boasts about 20 years’ experience in the lodging industry, including stints with Holiday Inn, John Q. Hammons and Marriott. Corbel, who originally hails from France, brings marketing experience to the Centennial, Colo.-based group.

Smalltown America is set to open its first refurbished Route 66 motel, Motel Safari in Tucumcari, N.M., on Feb. 18. It bought the motel on Dec. 7 and extensively remodeled it.

“We try to reuse as much of the old furnishings as possible to maintain its original image in history, but we do not sacrifice on quality,” Talley said of the 23-room motel, which dates to at least the 1950s. “For instance, Motel Safari will have 32-inch flat panel LCD TVs, high-speed Internet, Sealy Posturepedic pillow-top mattresses, and the works. But the desk furniture, the chairs, the vanities, will be the same. Everything that we can keep, we do.”

Rooms at the Motel Safari will initially go for $66 a night — higher than the budget motels in town but less expensive than the chains near the interstate.

“We’re not going to be the $20 to $30-a-night motel with the bad mattresses,” Talley said, “but we’re not going to be the $80-a-night brand-new-built ones, either. We want to fit right between there, as long as we get our money back from our investment.”

The company seeks to revamp old Route 66 motels, boost their value, and use the equity to help buy another old motel. Talley said that by the end of 2009, he anticipates having four motels under Smalltown America ownership.

One of Talley’s goals is to acquire the historic Boots Motel in Carthage, Mo., which has been closed since 2002 and once was threatened with redevelopment.

“We can’t say it’s going to happen, and we can’t make any promises on that,” Talley said of the Boots buyout. “It’s going to depend on whether the property’s still available, and whether we can negotiate a deal with the current owner.

“We’re here to help the Route 66 community and save all the old Route 66 motels that we can, ” he added.

Talley said Smalltown America originally envisioned acquiring 100 old motel properties on historic highways all across America, not just on Route 66. But, over time, he decided that Route 66 was better because it had “more exposure.” He considered old motels on Highway 101 on the West Coast, but decided it was too risky at this time to delve into “million-dollar properties.” He decided there were better values in small towns on the Mother Road.

“We eventually whittled it down to the best-potential properties still structurally sound that were financially responsible to make an investment with,” he said. “That’s how we started with the Motel Safari. It was all across America in these small towns to pick up these motels from the 1930s to the ’60s that were still in good structural condition. Families still drive across America to stay in these motels, but would like a nice TV and nice bed instead of springs popping through the mattresses from 50-year-old beds.”

Corbel’s role is to market the motels, especially using the Internet through the Smalltown America site.

“Route 66 is very well-exposed and well-known internationally, especially in Europe,” Corbel said. “We would hope to attract some international tourists. ”

Talley said he would consider other advertising ventures, including billboards, to draw travelers.

Talley doesn’t anticipate friction with the other high-profile historic motel in Tucumcari, the Blue Swallow Motel.

“In all honesty, I don’t think it’s competition,” he said. “First, we expect to have a very good working relationship with (the Blue Swallow’s owners), and I think we’ll complement each other. There are those that want an original Route 66 motel in its original condition, which would be the Blue Swallow. Then there are those who want things that you’re not going to get over there that we have.”

9 thoughts on “Company aims to restore vintage Route 66 motels

  1. D.P. Talley

    I’m his Mother! And of course I know he is already successful and Smalltown America will be just another jewel in his crown!

  2. Richard Talley

    Hello All – And thanks for keeping the interest alive!

    As for the Smalltown America logo, at some point we plan to make it an actual 1959 style Caddilac tail fin, with chrome trim and working tail lights. The words will be in neon!

    On the subject of the properties signs, each property will retain it’s original identity and neon signage. In some cases further improvements may be made, as the signs at the time of aquisition may no longer reflect the original signage. In the case of the Motel Safari, orignally the sign had a Best Western crown logo in place of the current Camel on top. When the sign’s restoration is complete, we even hope to have the Camel lit up in neon at night, with it’s legs walking!

  3. redforkhippie

    Smalltown might also look into the Washita Motel in Canute, Okla. Not sure about the property’s condition, as it’s been a while since I was out that direction, and I paid more attention to the sign than the building, but the price is certainly reasonable — I think they’re asking something like $80,000 for the whole shebang. It’s a small motel, but it would be a fun one to own. There’s not a whole lot of lodging out that direction, and I imagine if someone bought the Washita and publicized it a bit, it could be profitable.

    I’d love to see someone restore the West Winds in Erick, too.

    Hope y’all can get the Boots. It’s been one of my favorites and holds the distinction of being the first Route 66 mom-and-pop motel I ever slept in. It was great, and it really set the tone for all my future Route 66 adventures.

  4. Anonymous

    Hi Richard and Gail,
    Congratulations on your new adventure or venture.
    I stayed in an Ameristay Motel in small town Texas on Friday night.
    It certainly needed some personality. Boring but clean.
    I am sure you are acting out an idea that a lot of people think they
    would like to do when they retire. I always thought I would like to
    own a little motel in Key West FL with pink flamengo in the yard.
    There , you brought out something about me I had never confessed.

    Good luck and God Bless you both. Louise from Katy TX

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