New boutique hotel makes a splash on Mackinac Island
Andrew Doud has delivered lots of groceries on Mackinac Island as the proprietor of the island’s only market, which dates to 1884 and ranks as America’s oldest family-owned grocery store.
But perhaps no delivery was as memorable for the fourth-generation grocer as the day in February 2016 when a customer on nearby Market Street told him she wanted to sell her home -- immediately.
That news spurred Doud into action and launched a dramatic, 3½-year saga that resulted in the opening this summer of the Mackinac House, a 19-room luxury boutique hotel he and his entrepreneuring business partner, Bob Benser, built on the site.
With its choice location on the quiet block behind busy Main Street, within easy walking distance of the ferry docks, it’s the island’s first new hotel since the Bicycle Street Inn opened in 2013 and finished a waterfront expansion last spring.
The Mackinac House debuted to rave reviews in late July, just weeks before news that the iconic Grand Hotel, run for more than eight decades by the Musser family, would be sold to a Denver-based private equity firm that specializes in ownership of luxury hotels and resorts.
Throughout its short first season, which ended last weekend but will resume for two special holiday weekends in December, the family-friendly Mackinac House was all the buzz, with curious visitors, inspired by social media postings, and locals dropping by to check out the $4-million-plus development.
“We probably get about 12 people per day who come in to view it,” said Katharine Witt, a front desk associate, as several couples and other non-guests popped in on a recent fall afternoon for a look-see. Perusing the light, airy lobby that does double duty as a breakfast room, they oohed and aahed at the contemporary décor, a cheery mix of cottagey furnishings and bright, artsy fabrics that work well together even though they look as if they shouldn’t. Along a back wall, a large buffet is stocked with fixings for deluxe continental breakfasts and afternoon iced tea, cookies and lemonade, all complimentary.
Spread across four floors, the guest rooms are spacious, with good-size bathrooms and walk-in showers. They’re outfitted with queen or king beds; a handful are suites with kitchenettes that work well for families. Four of the rooms feature balconies. Upper rooms offer views in the distance of the Straits of Mackinac or, to the rear, Fort Mackinac. There’s central air-conditioning in the 2½-story building but no elevators, so, if stairs are an issue, book accordingly.
Upscale room amenities range from a Keurig coffee station and glass-fronted mini-fridge with complimentary LaCroix and bottled water to free high-speed Internet, smart TV’s, pillow-top mattresses, triple sheets and L’Occitane bath products. Each of the rooms is done up in one of four motifs with a bold “statement” wall, vibrantly-colored pillows and boho chic accents.
Vintage photographs and paintings by local artists are scattered throughout the hotel.
Celebrating their third anniversary, Robyn and Matt Johnson of Alto, near Grand Rapids, were charmed by the Mackinac House’s fresh, modern sensibility and comfort level, and deemed it their new favorite after previous stays elsewhere on the island.
“It’s really pretty and eye-catching,” she said. “I just love the bright colors and the white boards on the walls -- shiplap -- which you usually see on the outside of a house. It gives it kind of an old farmhouse look and that’s really ‘in’ right now.”
And, the Johnsons say, there’s something special about waking up in the morning to the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on the street right in front of your hotel.
With its pastel blue board-and-batten cedar siding, white trim and wide front porch with hanging flower baskets and ceiling fans, the upscale inn is designed in classic Mackinac Island style that blends in nicely with its neighbors.
“We didn’t want it to look like a hotel but basically to just go with the flow of Market Street,” explains Doud, who credits Benser with being the visionary behind the project. Given his own background as a grocer, Doud said Benser’s hospitality experience was crucial: he’s co-owner of two other Mackinac Island hotels, the Chippewa and Lilac Tree, and also owns Cottage Inn, a Victorian-style b & b on Market Street; a pizza parlor and the original Murdick’s Fudge shops.
The Mackinac House wasn’t quick or easy, according to Doud and Benser, who said they bought the original house, a 1,200-square foot ranch duplex, with the intention of tearing it down. But they wound up splitting it in half and moving it by horse-drawn drays to the island’s interior where it was reassembled and donated to the city for use as employee housing.
The foundation was complicated, too, requiring workers to dig deep into the hillside behind the site to expand the hotel’s footprint.
Then there were the challenges of navigating Historic District regulations – and island politics --- and the unique logistics of building on Mackinac Island. Construction materials had to be delivered, mostly by ferry, and transferred to the site by drays.
“At one point we were short 200 sheets of drywall and had to use six snowmobiles to bring them across on the ice bridge,” Doud recalled.
But all that is history now as the Mackinac House celebrates a successful first season and prepares to reopen briefly in December to welcome guests for two holiday weekend events. Innkeepers Rose and Dave Witt (Katharine’s parents) are taking reservations now for Dec. 6-8 for the island’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony and holiday bazaar. Rates are $200 per night with a three-night minimum. A few rooms remain for New Year’s Eve weekend, Dec. 29-31, at $240 per night with a three-night minimum.
Although much of Mackinac Island is shuttered for the winter, other accommodations that will be open for the holiday celebrations include the Chippewa and Lilac Tree hotels, Cottage Inn and Pontiac Lodge. Ferry service will be available.
The Mackinac House is accepting reservations for the 2020 season, with spring rates starting at $189. For information, check themackinachouse.com or call (906) 847-3911.