Lawyer and his wife double down on Lake George tourism

Lawyer and his wife double down on Lake George tourism

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LAKE GEORGE  Robert and Nerisha Gregor’s happy transition to hotel proprietors could be an argument for diverse education.

The Gregors recently bought the Sundowner Motel on Canada Street. It’s their second hotel purchase in five years; they moved to the area and bought the Motel Montreal in 2011.

The lifestyle transition began in 2009, when Robert Gregor was a mergers and acquisitions attorney in Manhattan.

“I billed like 3,300 hours my first year, did a number of public company mergers, and life was pretty miserable,” Gregor said during a quick tour of the Sundowner last week.

The realization that New York City’s law scene wasn’t for him got Gregor thinking about alternatives.

“In 2009, I’m getting married and I really don’t want to be in the law firm world anymore, so I said to my then-fiancee/now wife, ‘The only other thing I know how to do in this world is manage hotels,’” Gregor recalled. “My undergraduate degree is in hotel management.”

The couple did some research and purchased a small hotel in Maine – 26 rooms on a historic property. And while they still own that hotel – it’s managed by Gregor’s mother now – they didn’t feel at home in Maine, Gregor said.

They moved back to New York City for a time, and Robert resumed his career as a lawyer. After about a year, they resumed their quest for an exit strategy, talking about other places they could operate a hotel that might be more suitable to their personalities.

The couple were familiar with upstate New York – they met while in law school at Albany, and Robert later transferred to Cornell University, in Ithaca. Robert had also played golf once at The Sagamore, so he suggested they consider the Lake George area.

In 2011, having had their first child, they bought the Motel Montreal, on Lake Avenue, just north of the Sundowner, at 420 Canada St. The Gregors moved to the village as full-time residents the next year, after the birth of their second child. But the slow winter months got Robert back into the practice of law on the side.

“I started doing indigent defense work and family court work, and I kind of started having an identity crisis,” he said. “Am I a lawyer who owns hotels, or am I a hotel owner who happens to be a lawyer?”

A tragedy clarified things. In June, the Gregors were contemplating the purchase of the Sundowner but were on the fence. Nerisha was pregnant with their third son, and they weren’t sure they could afford another property.

The baby came in October but died shortly after.

“It was tough. Losing the baby made me decide I’m a hotel owner, and I don’t want to be a lawyer too much,” Robert Gregor said. “So, I decided to wind down the law practice and purchase this place and really focus on building a hotel company.”

There won’t be many changes to the Sundowner under the new owners, mainly because the Gregors have heard from longtime visitors who urged them not to do anything radical. So far, it’s just been some technology upgrades and the addition of new towels and linens, he said.

And while he anticipates purchasing more hotels in the future, Gregor was cautious about making predictions.

“I’m 39 now, so 10 years ago, I was just graduating law school, I had no children, I wasn’t married yet, I owned zero hotels, and I was trying to figure out whether to take a clerkship or take a job in the city,” he said. “Ten years later, I’m married with two children, I own three hotels, and I live in Lake George. So to say, 10 years out, where I’m going to be at 49? I don’t know. And that’s the fun of it.”

The Gregors aren’t the only newcomers to the village’s hotel scene, according to Mayor Robert Blais. He said properties have seen a spike in turnover, either being passed to the next generation of family members or being sold outright, as longtime owners enter retirement.

Blais said he’s glad to have the Sundowner and Montreal pass to owners who live in the village.

“When I first came to Lake George, every merchant, without question, all lived in the village; they all walked to work,” Blais said. “Then, as time went on, absentee ownership and leasers became more common.”

Blais said there’s a deeper level of commitment and involvement from business owners when they live in the village. He estimated about half of the merchants/business owners who operate in the village today are absentee owners or seasonal residents.

As for the Gregors, they’re planning to be here for the long haul. Robert Gregor said his greatest hope is to one day pass along the business to his sons, if they want it.

“It’s very personal,” he said. “It’s not really a take-over-the-world type of thing; it’s something for my boys.”

Read Scott Donnelly’s blog, Business Connection, at Poststar.com

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