Larry Smith, formerly of Knoxville, Tennessee, this week took over ownership of Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
Motel Safari posted this Thursday on its Facebook page of now-former owners Richard and Gail Talley, right, doing the ceremonial turning over the motel keys to Smith:
The Talleys officially announced the motel was for sale earlier this year.
Smith was a director for international program distribution at Scripps Networks in Knoxville for 17 years. He said during a phone interview Friday night the Talleys would help him run the motel for a couple of weeks during a transition period.
Smith said he’s been a regular traveler of Route 66 since 2009, but he didn’t think about buying a Route 66 business until last year.
“I started thinking about it after several trips to Tucumcari,” he said. “I felt something, and it started to tug at me more. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I wanted to be in Arizona or New Mexico, because I always loved the Southwest part of Route 66. There were a few towns I loved, and Tucumcari was one of them.”
Smith said a friend saw the Motel Safari was for sale. He also said some job changes led him to investigate buying it or some other business on 66.
“I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk anymore,” Smith said.
Smith said a seed of his future was planted during his first visit to Tucumcari amid a cross-country trip in the mid-1990s. Pulling off the freeway, he marveled at the neon signs along old Route 66 in town and stayed in the Blue Swallow Motel, back when Lillian Redman owned it.
“It triggered something in me,” he said of that stop.
Smith described himself as a “steward” of the Motel Safari.
“it’s a beautiful motel that’s been well taken care of,” he said. “but there’s more things to do, things I can put my stamp on, that excite me.”
One of Smith’s plans is to offer more Motel Safari merchandise for travelers, such as T-shirts.
“That’s the kind of stuff I love,” he said. ” I know what I buy on a road trip.”
He also plans to open more themed rooms to overnight travelers. Several rooms are being used for storage.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Smith. “Having that view (of Tucumcari Mountain) every morning helps.”
(Image of Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico, at sunset by Mike Fisher via Flickr)