Two nights, three meals, $49

August 18, 1996|By Jack Severson | Jack Severson,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

The year is 2006. It's July.

You and your sweetie are thinking about getting away for the weekend. Nothing elaborate, just somewhere cool. Maine, maybe.

Doing some rough calculations for the cost of two nights' lodging and meals for the two of you, you head for the cookie jar. You turn it upside down and out tumbles $100plus a few ones.

"Ah," you say to yourself, "plenty here for a three-day visit."

Excuse me? A weekend in Maine for a hundred and change? In 2006?

Can be done. Will be done, says Mel Robbins, owner and innkeeper extraordinaire of the Inns at Poland Spring in Poland Spring, Maine. And you'll be able to do it right there at his hostelry. Friday and Saturday nights' lodging, two full-buffet breakfasts and one buffet supper, all for just $49 per person. That's per person for the weekend, not for the night.

That's what the going rate is this year, and that's what the rate will be in 2006 for those who join what Robbins is calling the 25th Anniversary Club. (He bought the place in 1972.) Anyone who books a vacation (there are five-day and seven-day packages available at comparable rates) at the Inns at Poland Spring this year is eligible for membership in the club.

Club members will pay a membership fee of $10 a year for the next 10 years -- which, in turn, will allow them to vacation at the inns, paying 1996 rates, as often as they like over the next decade, beginning next year.

Why would anyone be willing to guarantee to freeze prices on a product for the next 10 years in exchange for a relatively paltry annual fee?

Marketing.

"I think it's a terrific idea, unique in the business," said Robbins, a former Boston adman who 24 years ago bought what had once been a proud hostelry catering to the carriage trade.

Robbins, who himself may be "unique in the business," spruced up what had become a Job Corps training site and soon began offering two-night weekend vacation packages for $25 per person, meals included. Over the years, the prices didn't increase a whole lot.

At this juncture I should point out that the Inns at Poland Spring will never be confused with any of the pricey old resorts scattered about New England. The lowest-price rooms are tiny, there are no phones in the rooms, and you have to bring your own towels, soap and in-room drinking glasses. The food (all-you-can-eat buffets) lives up to the brochure description of plain "country food."

Yet the place is spotlessly maintained, boasts a friendly and enthusiastic staff, an 18-hole golf course ($18 greens fees are good for the day, not just a round), tennis courts, shuffleboard, badminton and croquet. The dining room serves double duty as nightclub/dance hall/dinner theater.

It's the kind of place you can get comfortable in very quickly.

Now Robbins wants to make some improvements. And to that end, he says he's going to raise rates. "We'll probably raise them 10 to 15 percent next year," Robbins said. "And we'll be raising them about 10 percent each year for the next few years."

Some of that extra money, he said, will offset the lower rates paid by anniversary-club members. Some of it will go toward adding amenities -- like towels, soap and room glasses.

But what Robbins is really looking forward to using the increased revenue for is the construction of a dinner theater adjacent to the inns' main building.

"I'm very devoted to theater," Robbins said. "Back in 1990, we began a series of shows called 'Our Century.' This year we're doing the '50s. We have a narrator and performers and music from the '50s, and we make it a 2 1/2 -to-3-hour show. We charge $6, and it's always sold out."

Anyone who wants to join the 25th Anniversary Club better act soon. According to Robbins, the inns' five-night midweek packages (starting at $89 per person for five nights and 10 meals) are sold out through the end of August, although weekend packages are still available. From Labor Day through Columbus Day weekend, the place is open weekends only.

For information, contact the Inns at Poland Spring, Poland Spring, Maine 04274; (207) 998-4351, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon weekends.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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