West Lane Inn’s new owners excited to run ‘essence of Ridgefield’
Christine Carnicelli and Danille Petrie have an open-door policy.
Anyone who wants to come visit their 18-room boutique hotel off West Lane is welcome to a tour — and a warm conversation.
“It’s the essence of Ridgefield,” said Carnicelli of the West Lane Inn, which she purchased with Petrie from longtime owner Debbie Prieger on Oct. 11.
“We want to collaborate with other businesses and hear their visions, and we want neighbors to drop in and feel connected to this historical building,” added Petrie. “Our goal is to make this the town’s inn. We want people to come in and see it. For us, buying this place was all about the town and the people in it. It’s more than an inn for us to run — it’s a place that has roots and we’re happy to tell everyone that those roots are here to stay.”
Carnicelli and Petrie met walking their sons to East Ridge Middle School on their first day of sixth grade in the fall of 2017. From there, the two forged a friendship that led them to buying Prieger’s inn — a building that dates back to 1849 and was converted into a bed and breakfast location for visitors of Ridgefield in 1978.
“We realized we had a lot of common interests and common personalities,” Carnicelli said. “We have the same perspective on a lot of things.”
“We listen to the same Pandora station for music,” added Petrie, with a laugh. “That really sealed the deal for me.”
The two moms had both stopped working full time to raise their respective families but wanted to get back into something that didn’t require traveling for work.
“I had no desire to go back into the city, nothing there excited me,” said Carnicelli, who has a background in human resources. “I never thought I’d do this type of thing when I stopped working in the corporate world but the more Danille and I talked about what our plan was and who we were and what we were could bring to something like this, I knew this was right where I needed to be.”
Before the West Lane Inn even came on the market in May 2019, Carnicelli and Petrie were percolating on the idea of becoming business partners. Last winter, they had dinner with their husbands and their mutual interest in a project in Ridgefield shined.
“We had a few different ideas — an inn was one of them, a spa was another. We also thought about having a dog spa or a dog hotel,” said Petrie. “We also discussed owning a coffee shop at one point.”
“We both realized we had an interest in real estate and that both of us had bought homes in town to renovate and that we were passionate about interior design and decorations,” added Carnicelli. “We started looking on Zillow and wondering, ‘can this property be converted?’”
The duo got sidetracked for a few months — Carnicelli was busy sending her twin daughters to college and Petrie was taking time to renovate her home on Country Club Road. But then, things fell into place at the right time.
“The inn came on the market in May and I called Danille immediately and she just responded with, ‘When can we see it?’” said Carnicelli, “and we were touring it that weekend.”
“It was a bit of a nail-biter though,” said Petrie, “there were a lot of people interested. Debbie definitely had multiple bids before making her final decision.”
Prieger had a few preferences when deciding on whom to sell to — both buildings on the two-acre property were to be kept intact, the business was to remain an inn, and she wanted the new owners to be local.
Carnicelli and Petrie checked all three boxes.
“We have the best commute of anyone in town,” said Carnicelli, who lives on High Ridge Avenue. “The inn is right around the corner from my house. My son skateboarded over here the other day, and my husband comes by with our dog and taps on the window.”
Like any new business owners, Carnicelli and Petrie have already set their sights on some things they’d like to update — new paint on the outside, new wallpaper on the inside, and an updated presence online and on social media.
“We want to preserve the building while also giving it the facelift it deserves,” said Carnicelli. “ ... A new set of eyes is sometimes good for something like this that’s been in the same hands for four decades. We want to open things up some, declutter the rooms a little. There’s too much furniture in them.”
“There’s a charm here that’s undeniable and we have no intention of getting rid of that but there are things we can modernize to help attract a new generation of tourists who are coming to Ridgefield for a weekend and are looking for a full experience,” she said. “... There’s room to make the exterior more stimulating. We can do that by making the landscaping more inviting and building out the front porch to the way it originally looked.”
The duo would also like to create a common room — somewhere people can sit and talk after having dinner.
“We don’t have the answer to that, no solutions yet,” Carnicelli said, “but it’s in the back of our minds.”
“We’d like to tackle the wallpaper tomorrow but we have to put the 15 people checking in first,” Petrie said. “They need the best versions of us.”
And that’s why there’s no immediate construction project scheduled at the inn this fall.
“We’ll get to them when it’s a bit slower in January and February,” Petrie said. “We want to get the holidays under our belt and get a better feel for everything before getting our hands dirty.”
While their wish list has plenty of interior and exterior items to check off, their number one goal is attracting visitors to the West Lane Inn — even those who don’t plan on staying the night.
That’s why on Halloween the two new owners opened their doors and handed out full-sized candy bars to passing trick-or-treaters.
“We’ve discovered a lot of people haven’t been in — or some who don’t even know about it,” Carnicelli said. “There are people who’ve lived here their whole lives and yet have never been inside. We’re looking to change that. ... It’s building that’s been a staple to Ridgefield for decades. Everyone should at least come by for a visit and a tour.”
“We encourage people to walk in and see it,” Petrie added. “This can be a place for people from out of town to stay during Thanksgiving or to stay when their homes are being renovated or it can just be a place where they come by and chat with us. We want to host events here and we want to get to know as many people as possible on a personal level.
“... This is our little gem and we want to share it.”
They don’t want to lose the momentum of being new owners in the Ridgefield community.
“We’re meeting with Lounsbury House, Keeler Tavern, the Aldrich, the Playhouse, ACT, Bernard’s — we want to building partnerships and share our space,” Carnicelli said. “We will be able to parlay off each other and create great experiences for people who come into this town that everybody loves and wants to show off. We’re all in the business of catering to people and building Ridgefield to be the best destination it can be. Our philosophy is: It’s better to act together than to act alone. There’s plenty of opportunity for all us.”
‘Like a marriage’
Carnicelli and Petrie don’t know how Prieger ran the business for as long as she did by herself.
“I’ve always wanted to own a bed and breakfast but I never would have been able to do this alone,” said Petrie. “ ... Having a business partner and having my family here in town definitely enables me to put the phone down and tackle other things that I might need to take care of that pop up here and there. ... We want to respect each other’s lives outside of the business and I think we’ve already been able to strike that balance.”
Carnicelli cherishes the partnership, too.
“This is like a marriage,” said Carnicelli, “we keep getting to know each other better and better.”
Having each other to lean on is an important part of making the business succeed long-term.
“I think we were both burning the candle at both ends that first week,” Carnicelli said. “But since then I’ve been doing most of the morning shifts and Danille has been here at night and we’ve traded off here and there when we need to — things are going to happen in our lives that we need to run out and take care of. We never want our life to be all about the business.”
Soccer jerseys and blueberries
There’s plenty of excitement about all the responsibility that comes with being a new owner.
“There hasn’t been a time when I’ve been tired or ready to come in,” said Petrie. “The energy is so high right now. My days used to be all about making sure a soccer jersey was washed in time, now it’s ‘do we have blueberries to serve with breakfast?’ Every day is different and we’re learning something new all the time.”
“I’m still pinching myself,” Carnicelli added. “Every time I drive by it’s this beacon of light, and I get the coolest feeling. ... Every day is like Christmas.”
The next hurdle for both Carnicelli and Petrie is figuring out how to take a day off.
“My daughters were asking me that recently,” Carnicelli laughed. “I don’t think they understand there are no days off right now — we have a full house here on Thanksgiving.”
“Having someone else makes it so much easier though,” Petrie added.
Their families have helped pitch in, too.
“Our husbands have been super supportive,” said Petrie. “They’ve helped clean our windows and fix our TV remotes. They were handing out Halloween candy. We couldn’t be more grateful.”
The West Lane Inn is a business that has been built on repeat customers.
“It has a strong reputation with the people who have come here and stayed in the past,” Carnicelli said. “Some people have stayed here 100 times.”
The history of the business was one of the strongest selling points for both Carnicelli and Petrie, but with it there’s also an opportunity for growth.
“We want to find out who’s stayed here and email them again and really tap into those repeat customers and get their feedback,” Petrie said.
“There’s a ton of potential with every rock we unturn.”
Business as usual
While they look forward to implementing changes, what they’re most proud of this fall is picking up the business right where Prieger had left it.
“We didn’t want to close it for any period of time, and we haven’t missed a beat — business as usual” Petrie said. “.... There will be renovations but there will be no closing. It would hurt us to have to close. We need to learn how it’s going to be.”
It helps that the old owner is only a phone call and a short walk away.
“Debbie still lives in the back of property and that’s been very helpful,” Carnicelli said.
“She was with us the first two weeks in the trenches and, after 30-plus years here, she knows everything about the building. She’s built a fine-oiled machine and we couldn’t be more happy with how the transition has gone. We still have a lot to learn but we’re really excited about the journey we’re on right now and getting to share it with a community that we love.”