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9 on 9: From Mill to Mill Falls – Rusty McClear

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - September 7, 2011





If you have lived in Meredith for years, you recall the old mill complex in the downtown area. You will also recall the 1980s when a visionary newcomer to the Lakes Region brought an unusual idea to Meredith to turn the mill into a beautiful shopping complex and inn. That vision resulted in the thriving Mill Falls complex of shops, restaurants and hotels. The newcomer, Rusty McClear, has made the area home for many years and is the president of the business. He still has big plans for the continued growth of the complex.

 

1. How long have you lived in the Lakes Region and what brought you here?

Rusty: “I have lived here for 39 years. I originally came here to work and train in the hospitality business at Brickyard Mountain Inn.”

 

2. What is your official title? Can you describe your job at the Mill Falls complex, because it is a big and rather unusual job?

Rusty: “I am president and CEO of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings. I have a wonderful staff and   they are very professional and they do the day-to-day operation of the business. My job is really to do continuous planning for the future, such as what we will to be doing next year, three years from now, etc.”

 

3. When we think of anything to do with Meredith, Mill Falls comes to mind. How did it all begin and what was the project like way back when you started?

Rusty: “It began with my interest in old buildings. When I first moved to town one of the most forgettable structures was the Amatex plant. It took up five acres of the downtown. It was also one of the most impressive parts of town because it was a classic 1820s mill building and it had a waterfall flowing through the front of the building, 1,000 feet of road frontage and it overlooked the lake. The building had great potential that needed to be unlocked. I started writing letters to the president of Amatex (he was in Pennsylvania) asking if he would sell the building. I wrote him letters for seven years, and finally in 1982 he wrote back and said he wanted to sell. Also in 1982, the town of Meredith published a master plan. I was chair of the zoning board. The master plan helped me solidify what we could do with the property. We opened the shops in 1984; the Inn at Mill Falls in 1985; Bay Point in 1995; Chase House in 1999; the gas station in 2000; and Church Landing in 2004. In September of this year will be starting an addition at Church Landing that will add 15 new rooms and also meeting facilities, an indoor/outdoor pool and outside deck. We bought the Christmas Loft building and we will be renovating it for an activities center next year.”

 

4. People look at what you’ve done and see it as an ultimate success story. What’s the key to your success with your business? 

Rusty: “I think the key to anyone’s success is persistence. You have to persist in what you are doing. You can’t let yourself be dissuaded or moved from the direction you wish to go in. There are always hurdles in anything you do which you have to get over. You cannot let those hurdles stop you. You also need luck and you have to be able to take advantage of luck when it comes your way.”

 

5. Talk about your earlier life – where you grew up, your background in business.

Rusty: “I grew up in Leave it to Beaver world in NJ in the 1950s. I went to the University of Notre Dame and also went to college in Vermont. When I was in college in Vermont, I started at a restaurant called The Gallery. When I graduated I sold the restaurant. I came to Brickyard Mountain Inn to learn more about the hospitality industry and I planned to return to Vermont and open an inn. That never happened when I got involved in Mill Falls.”

 

6. How has Mill Falls changed over the years?

Rusty: “It started off as a rather small real estate investment. At the time, I didn’t plan on running it. I also owned a real estate business at that point. When Bay Point came up for sale, the project started to grow. When Bay Point opened and was successful, it put us on the path to what we are today.”

 

7. What are your favorite seasons in the Lakes Region; can you also tell me what your favorite times of year are at Mill Falls because you do so many great seasonal things?

Rusty: “Frankly, I love all the seasons in the Lakes Region. Summer, fall and winter are especially great. I can’t say I have a favorite time of year at Mill Falls, because each is special. We have guests who come during one particular season because they love it. There is something different here almost every day.”

 

8. Where do the inn’s customers come from and what brings them back year after year?

Rusty: “They come from all over. The majority is from the Boston area and southern NH; probably 50 percent come here from that area. Almost 10 percent of guests are local people from Concord and north and come here for weddings, business meetings, holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. We are surprisingly local.”

 

9. What do you think makes the area so special and what do you think will be different in the Lakes Region 10 years from now?

Rusty: “What makes it special are the lake and the village of Meredith. It’s great that you can drive just 1 1/2 hours and be transported to an area that is really pretty, calm and quiet and yet there is always something to do. Ten years from now I hope it is even better. I think Meredith is one of the few towns in the last 30 years that has grown and gotten better and prettier.”

 

10. You’ve also been successful in the wedding industry. How have you done that and what do brides love about your properties for weddings? 

Rusty: “We did not set out to be in the wedding industry, but we have a big lawn right on the lake and big event space, so the whole thing fits together well for weddings. We strive to make sure it all works smoothly.”

 

11. What future plans are slated for Mill Falls?

Rusty: “As I mentioned, we are adding on at Church Landing. In the past couple of years we added a maintenance facility; this year we added a parking lot for employees, and we spend time and energy and money each year to keep the properties up and will continue to do so. We have to remain competitive because our guests can choose to go anyplace in the country to get away. They have a lot of great options and our competition is Cape Cod, Nantucket and other scenic areas. We have to be good to compete.”

 

12. What would be your advice for someone just starting out in the hospitality industry?

Rusty: “I would tell them to enjoy it. You have to enjoy it to be good at it.”

 

13. What is your favorite spot in the Lakes Region?

Rusty: “First, I would have to say Mill Falls in Meredith. Also, I love to ski at Waterville Valley; it’s great there. And my favorite spot in the world is an old boathouse at Advent Cove.”

 

14. What are your future plans?

Rusty: “I plan to keep doing what I am doing. I am very lucky. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and I can’t wait to get to work.” 

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