Now's your chance to own that cozy New England B&B you've always wanted.
The owner of the Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant in Lovell, Maine, is retiring and handing over the keys to the person who best writes in 200 words "Why I would like to own and operate a country inn."
"The phone's been ringing off the hook," said owner Janis Sage, whose inn boasts a four-star rating on TripAdvisor.
The winner must agree to operate the 210-year-old property — which is an hour and a half from Portland and overlooks the majestic White Mountains and Kezar Lake — as an inn and restaurant for at least one year. He or she must also keep the original exterior color scheme.
The job may be a fantasy for any cubicle dweller, but it comes with some rigorous responsibilities: cooking breakfast, tidying rooms, scheduling guests, serving dinner and managing a staff of eight. The winner should expect to put in 17-hour days, Sage told the Daily News.
"It's a lot of work, but it's fun work," she said.
So what will it take to win not only the 10-bedroom inn, but an additional $20,000 prize? Sage isn't saying much, but does want entrants to "convey why they think they have the talents and the stamina to carry on the successful business I've built."
The 68-year-old retiree is continuing a tradition: She herself won the property via an essay contest 22 years ago, after a friend heard about it on "The Phil Donahue Show."
"I had never been Maine," said the New York native, "but I finally got here and two weeks later I was up and running."
It may sound like a supreme act of altruism to hand her business over to a contest winner -- but Sage won’t go unrewarded financially. In addition to the essay, she’s asking for a $125 entry fee — so if she gets the 7,500 entries she expects, she’ll more than recoup the property’s estimated $900,000 value.
In that sense, she’s essentially selling her house — albeit in an unconventional way.
She'll enlist a two-person panel to help her decide the winner by May 21. The new owner will take over a month later.
Sage says she'll miss her guests and the nearby mountains the most, but she's not going far. She's retiring locally and will be available when the new owner needs a hand.
"I'd be glad to help out the winner," she said. "There's a lot to learn."
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The Maine State Police are investigating whether a Maine woman broke the law in a recent essay contest to give away her 210-year-old inn, Sergeant Michael Johnston of the State Police’s special investigations unit said.
The Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant, with spectacular views of the White Mountains, was awarded June 6 to a US Virgin Islands couple who ran a Caribbean-style restaurant on St. John. Janice Sage, the Maine innkeeper who held the essay contest, said Prince and Rose Adams were chosen from thousands of entrants who each submitted a 200-word essay and $125 entry fee.
Now, dozens of unsuccessful contestants are crying foul about what they argue, among other concerns, was deceptive advertising. The group has organized as the Center Lovell Contest Fair Practices Commission and complained that Sage incorrectly stated that no advantage would be granted to restaurant or inn owners.
“One of the many allegations against Janice Sage and the contest she sponsored is that the advertising of the contest . . . was illegally deceptive and violated consumer-rights regulations, intentionally coercing thousands of people to enter a contest that they never had an actual chance of winning,” said Kelley Prass Collins, who founded the group.
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“In short, Janice Sage was advertising a contest for ‘dreamers’ who would never have the chance to own an inn and restaurant, and then handed the prize to just such a business owner.”
Couple wins keys to Maine inn
Prince and Rose Adams won an essay contest that saw thousands of entrants to run the Center Lovell Inn.
Neither Sage nor the Adamses could be reached for comment Monday.
Maine State Police said their investigation is narrowly tailored to determine whether the contest violated state law on games of skill. Under the law, which is an older statute primarily written to cover carnival games, operators of such games are prohibited from partially or completely controlling the outcome.
Entrants into the Center Lovell Inn contest had been told the winner would be chosen by an independent, local panel of judges.
“We have received some complaints, so we are being responsive to that and are looking into it to determine if any violations of the [state] law occurred,” Johnston said. “We’re not there to determine if other federal laws or rules may have been violated, such as through the Federal Trade Commission, or whether any potential civil liability may exist.”
Sage said she received fewer than the 7,500 entries she had sought. But at $125 per essay, Sage said, she secured enough money for retirement after running the inn for 22 years.
Sage won the inn in much the same way. After managing a busy Maryland restaurant for years, Sage said, she wanted a change and submitted the winning essay to acquire the sprawling inn and restaurant in a previous contest.
Johnston said the investigation is expected to be completed within a week.
“The contestants may want to consult a qualified private attorney to determine if there are any other options,” Johnston said.Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie @globe.com.