Rest Area

Brad Schwartz pulled off the highway of big-city life and decided to buy a Vermont inn

by Leon J. Thompson

buckhollowIn 1992, Brad Schwartz created quite a stir in the world of big media after he left his job as New York lawyer to run The Inn at Buck Hollow Farm in Fletcher. He and his wife, Jacquie, also sell antiques in a shop at the inn and at other Vermont locations. Grover, one of their two springer spaniels, watches.

The February 1992 edition of the National Enquirer in Brad Schwartz’s hands is in great condition, but the headline on Page 32 still makes him chuckle: “$200,000-a-year lawyer ekes out a living running an inn.”

Schwartz was still the new owner of The Inn at Buck Hollow Farm in Fletcher when he appeared in the Enquirer, which featured a photo of him wielding a chainsaw on the 400-acre inn property, not looking much older than he does now, at 73. The story was “a little accurate,” Schwartz says, but it led to his subsequent appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show for an episode that echoed the same theme: high-paid people who toss it all away for simplicity’s sake.

On the surface, Brad appears an unlikely person to have made this move. He was born and raised in Auburn, N.Y., the son of Maurice Schwartz. His mother died when he was 7. His father was a business man who owned, with his brother, two scrap metal yards — in Auburn and Rochester.

“In his later years,” says Brad, “my father was elected mayor of Auburn. I always say that the interesting thing is that in Auburn, which is 65 percent democratic and 65 percent Catholic, elected and reelected a Republican Jewish mayor. That says a lot about him.”

Brad says he always wanted to be a lawyer. “I kind of emulated my brother-in-law, who was 16 years older than I. He was a very well-known attorney in New York City — kind of my hero.”

After graduating with a degree in history from the University of Michigan, he earned his law degree from Cornell in 1965. He married that same year. “I’ve had three wives, he says with a chuckle. “She was the mother of my first two children, Gail and Margie.” They were married 19 years.

Following graduation, Brad worked for a couple of larger law firms in Rochester, and then went out on his own. “I practiced for 20 of the 25 years alone,” he says. He married again in 1986. That marriage produced two more children, Kate and Mark.

By the late 1980s, Schwartz was driving to his Rochester legal practice daily, watching the clock on his dashboard kiss 8 a.m., and wondering, “Why wait? Let’s just do it.”

“We wanted to do the Newhart thing,” Schwartz says today.

He and his then-wife bought the property in Fletcher in 1989. “We came here with the intention of converting it into an inn, and that’s what we did — moved here in August, and the inn opened the first week of April of 1990.” They were divorced in 1995.

It’s now 25 years since Brad came to Vermont. He and his wife, Jacquie — a native of the Nova Scotia area who came to Vermont in 2003 after meeting Brad on the Internet — have made The Inn at Buck Hollow Farm a premier getaway spot in northwestern Vermont.

Jacquie markets the inn using the skills she honed as a real estate broker in Montreal for four years. She revamped the inn’s website and still manages it. Jacquie is also the creator of meals at the inn — breakfast is included, dinner is by request — and she is vegan, allowing her to cater to various palates.

“We accommodate everyone that comes here,” Jacquie says.

The inn is plastered with folk art — Jacquie’s work and that of other artists — and antiques. “We have several Warren Kimball originals,” says Brad, “and a couple of pieces by Jim Bushey and Joe Mason.”

A red-barn antiques shop is on the property, and as dealers, the Schwartzes are part of two group shops: Lang Farm Antique Center in Essex and Champlain Valley Antique Center on Shelburne Road.

On a rainy day in early July, the Schwartzes are prepping for a five-day antiques show in Skaneateles, N.Y. The truck is full, the trailer is full, and they are ready to go. The inn has a full-time manager, Cheri Audet. Part-time student staffers, such as Adelle Rebeor, 22, give Brad and Jacquie the flexibility they need to have a life outside the inn — to live the way Brad anticipated in the late 1980s.

“It’s a great place to work, and it’s a great environment,” says Rebeor, who will be a college senior this fall. She has met people from Italy, Ireland, and Australia, she says, since she started working at the inn as a high school freshman. “It’s funny to think they all come to this little town in Vermont.”

Perhaps it’s because the Schwartzes give them reasons. Amenities at the inn include a 40-foot seasonal pool, a hot tub, and a working sugarhouse. Sixty-one solar panels on the barn provide up to 90 percent of the power at the inn, and the house has a separate solar system for hot water. The property is connected to trails maintained by the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers — “a spur off their main line that runs right to our driveway,” says Brad. This makes the inn a four-season spot for hikers and cross-country skiers over trails originally created for logging and sugaring.

“Our busiest month is August,” Brad says. “We are 95 percent full that month every year.”

The Schwartzes have five cats and two English springer spaniels, Elmo (black and white) and Grover (brown and white), and the inn is pet-friendly, with certain conditions that are listed on the website, which features a pet-penned newsletter. “I tell people ‘Elmo’ and ‘Grover’ were not my choice of names,” Brad says, laughing. “I’d have called them Sherlock and Watson.”

The pet-friendly atmosphere and the pets’ online newsletter are what first attracted Bill and Nancy Decker of Lansdale, Pa., in May 2010, when Bill was searching the Web for a place they could celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

“We felt right at home the very first night,” the Deckers wrote via email. “The inn is delightful. The location is breathtaking.”

Nina and Tony Feist of Montreal have visited the inn since 1990 during various seasons, but their favorite time there is New Year’s Eve.

“Brad and Jacquie are very special people, the kind of innkeepers who always go the extra mile to ensure that their guests are comfortable and enjoying themselves,” the Feists wrote, also via email. “We return to the inn time and time again because we love spending time at our home away from home, and our friendship grows stronger with each visit.”

Jacquie says her biggest reward is meeting the people who stay there. “In order to be in this business,” she says, “you have to like people.”

Her husband certainly does, which is evident by the way he gives new visitors tours of the inn. The main building, where guests sleep, was built on the property around 1800. According to Brad, local legend has it that a Franklin County man won all 400 acres in a poker game. Another Franklin County family farmed the property until the 1970s.

After he bought the property, Brad added the guest sunroom area, which connects the two main buildings. The inn used to hold events for up to 200 people, but the Schwartzes stopped offering that around 2011. “It’s really a lot of work and supervision,” Brad says.

There are four guest rooms, and all guests are greeted by a plush, oversized moose or bear on the bed, as well as a Schwartz-written book of Vermont maple syrup recipes.

The Yellow Room and Blue Room are aptly named for their color schemes. Outdoor photos of the inn during autumn fill the Foliage Room, and the walls of the Presidential Suite are covered with antiques, including framed photos of Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, with autographed cards underneath their images.

“Those were some real neat finds right there,” Brad says.

Even with thoughts of the upcoming New York trip in the back of his mind, Brad peppers his tour of the inn with stories. One of his favorites is about the high-level General Electric executive who lost his job due to issues with alcohol, and resorted to driving a truck. The man eventually contracted cancer, due to long hours on the road and a hefty diet of coffee and cigarettes.

In his last days, he rented the entire inn and some rooms at surrounding establishments, and threw himself a going-away party that lasted 10 days. He died a week later in Burlington.

“The event was just amazing: an unbelievable sight and experience,” Brad recalls. “There were top military officials from one part of this guy’s life mixing it up with bikers from another part of his life. I’ll never forget it.”

Two of Brad’s grown children live in Vermont. Mark, 26, is a police officer at the University of Vermont, and Margie, 44, is a veterinary technician in Milton. Brad says it is conceivable that one of them might want to live at the inn, or own it one day, but for now, he and Jacquie have no succession plan.

“On the other hand,” Brad says, “I have no intention of dying.”

Wait until the Enquirer hears this!