Debbie Prieger will miss cooking breakfasts on the front porch in the summers, she will miss the musicians coming back from the Ridgefield Playhouse late at night, and she will miss serving guests from all over the world.
What she’ll miss most of all is her two-acre property at 22 West Lane — better known to travelers for the last five decades as the West Lane Inn.
“Well over 50 percent of my customers are regulars, and I’ll miss all of them. I’ll miss my housekeepers who have been here for 20 and 16 years, which is an extraordinary amount of time in the hospitality business, and who have become like family members to me. But what I’ll miss the most is the property. I’ve been here 52 years. It’s the hardest thing to come to terms with.”
Prieger, who has decided to sell the business, its buildings, and the land, spoke to The Press on Thursday, May 16, about some of the highlights she’s had since joining her mom in 1992.
“I grew up next door at the house that’s now behind Bernard’s Restaurant [on West Lane],” Prieger recalled. “... Ridgefield has been my physical address since I was two years old.”
Her father and mother bought Todes Inn — the building that’s Bernard’s — in 1966. They purchased the property that the West Lane Inn sits on six years later in 1972.
“It was previously run as boarding house before my mom turned it into an inn in 1978,” Prieger said. “It’s been an inn now for 41 years.”
Prieger was living overseas in Paris in the early 1990s when she decided to come home to Ridgefield.
“And when I came home, my mother asked me to join her,” she said. “That was 27 years ago. I’ve been here ever since.”
The mother and daughter duo operated the West Lane Inn together until 2011, when Prieger’s mother, Maureen Mayer, passed away.
“My family had always been in the restaurant business,” Prieger said. “My father and mother both operated a restaurant together. My mother's father owned and operated Mayer's Parkway in The Bronx. My aunts and uncles, my brother — my whole family grew up in the restaurant business. My mother learned the hotel business as she went along. She was the one who trained me and taught me everything I know. …
“I know a lot of families have problems working together but we worked very well.”
Prieger has followed in her family’s footsteps. In addition to managing the property and checking customers in and out, she handles all cooking duties.
She’ll miss serving them — especially when the weather’s nice.
“I have a beautiful front porch,” she said. “In the summers, I love cooking breakfast and bringing it to customers out there. That’s one of the things people always tell me that they remember about staying here.”
Where are you from?
She’s had travelers from all over the world — New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Venezuela, France, Germany.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting a variety of people over the years,” Prieger said. “From this area, from the western part of the United States, and from Europe. Back in the day, Ridgefield had international companies like Boehringer Ingelheim and Schlumberger that would bring in corporate people from everywhere. … We’re not as international these days.”
Playing in the band
That doesn’t mean the inn has been quiet by any means.
“We’ve been doing business with The Playhouse for years,” she said. “The bands stay with me and, sometimes when they have a lull in their tour, they stay with me a couple of nights. That’s always a lot of fun. They’re always really, really nice.”
Any celebrities stand out over the years?
“Ed Asner from The Mary Tyler Moore Show has stayed with us twice,” Prieger said. “He has a lot of character and is a blast to have here.”
While the variety of guests kept her entertained over the years, Prieger is certainly looking from a reprieve from the daily 5 a.m. wake up to cook breakfast and begin the day.
“We serve breakfast, check people out, take reservations, do the books, check people in, order flowers or plants — anything that needs to be done to maintain the property,” she said. “Nothing really exciting. … I close up around 8 most nights but it’s seven days a week which is why I’m selling.
Besides the two housekeepers who have been with her for more than 15 years, she manages every aspect of the business.
“It was a lot easier when my mother was around,” she admits.
The day to day grind has caught up with her the last few years.
“27 years is a long time to be doing this,” she said. “I’ve missed out on a lot of events and holidays … I haven’t taken a vacation these past two years.”
People have begun asking her what she’d like to do once the property sells.
“Enjoy life a little,” she said. “I enjoyed every moment of it but at this point I’m tired. I’m up for a change. Running an inn is lifestyle — it’s a big commitment.”
Read more of this story in next week's Ridgefield Press.