LEELANAU COUNTY, Mich. , (WPBN/WGTU)--When you walk through Fishtown in Leland, it’s easy to get lost in the past. The historic buildings take a visitor back in time. That’s kind of the point. But there is one building right next to the water that was in need of major updates.
Cooper and Emily Heston are the new owners of the Falling Waters Lodge, the hotel that has welcomed guests for the past 50 years. In that time, not much has changed at the lodge. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. As Cooper explains, "My Grandfather had it for 19 years. He came up to Leland to retire, then two weeks later he and my grandmother bought Falling Water Lodge."
For almost two decades, Cooper’s Grandfather ran the hotel his way, which meant that the lodge, built in the 1960’s looked like it, inside and out. Cooper says "People would come and they would either leave a 5 star or a 1-star review, but they would say the exact same thing. It would say this is a really beautiful location, but the place needs updates."
Those updates are happening now. When Cooper's grandfather died, the young couple who had worked at the hotel for the past eight seasons, found a way to buy Falling Waters. They are now in the process of putting their own stamp on it.
It’s a balancing act for Cooper and Emily of the youthful enthusiasm of evolution versus the desire to preserve the wishes and spirit of the past. They understand that, and they understand why changes weren’t made by their Grandfather. "When you have had something for 19 years, it's really hard to change, and he really didn't like change and that's where Emily and I come in, as the younglings, boy we love change" explains Cooper.
Literally, on day one of their ownership in 2017, they got to work. Cooper says "when we bought it on March 30th, on April 1st we had all the carpet in all the rooms taken out, thrown in the dumpster and we really just didn't stop pushing forward after that."
It's been one updating project after another. You can imagine a renovation job on a 50-year-old building has had a few surprises. While replacing the kitchenettes in the rooms they discovered the wiring wasn’t correct, which lead to repairs on the hallway sconces and eventually plastering and repainting of the hallways. That’s just the way older home renovations work. Emily says "this building is just old enough and just weird enough that we expect it every time." But if you spend much time with Emily and Cooper you realize that this couple tackles the weirdness with youthful optimism, and they tackle it together. Emily says "It is good to know that my business partner is also my life partner, is also my best friend."
One year in, and this duo has made a lot of progress in transforming this little hotel from a throwback to the 60’s to their vision of what today’s guests are really looking for, and in the process, they have found a way to stay inspired. Cooper says "one of our most exciting processes so far has been our favorite room changes. We will put in the new kitchenette in 105 and say this is it, this is the best room, our favorite room, and then put the new art in 307 and be like no, this is it, this is the best room we have now, the greatest room anyone has ever seen."
Emily and Cooper are creating a new Falling Waters Lodge. It’s a process that is far from over. They have long term goals, but right now are focused on getting everything ready to welcome guests this season. Many of whom will be getting their first look at the couple’s hard work, an effort driven by more than just a business’s bottom line. Emily says "We love this place and we want people to feel that love when they stay here."
To learn more about the Falling Waters Lodge click here.