Well, that inn is now available just for the asking. That is, as long as you ask passionately and cleverly enough to please Bil and Susie Mosca, owners of an early 19th-century building converted to an inn in Center Lovell, Maine. After running the place for 18 years, the couple have decided it's time for a (mange. But rather than simply put the 11-room hostelry up for sale and have to deal with real estate brokers, intrusive open houses and all of the other hassles associated with selling property, they are holding a contest. An essay contest, to be exact, and the winner gels the inn.
"You don't have to write well," says Bil, 48. "You just have to put your heart into the essay." And be willing to risk $100 on your powers of persuasion. That's the fee that must accompany a 250-word ode beginning, "I would like to own and operate an old-fashioned country inn like the Center Lovell Inn."
The opening sentence may not be inspired, but the idea for the contest is. Since the Moscas first announced it, in the December issue of Yankee magazine, they have been spending three hours a day sorting mail and have responded to more than 8,000 requests for applications so far. The goal is 5,000 essays by April 25, ensuring the Moscas $500,000 for the inn and its four-acre property, recently assessed at $525,000. (Contest rules, approved by the Maine Attorney General, stipulate that no more than 5,000 entries will be accepted and that if fewer are submitted, the Moscas may return all entry fees and keep the inn. For an application, write to Box 261, Center Lovell, Me., 04016.) Bil and Susie will choose 25 semifinalists, and to avoid any appearance of conflict, a panel of three impartial judges, named by the couple, will pick the winner.
The idea to "write off" the inn has been in the works ever since Bil traveled to Costa Rica in 1981 and fell for the beaches and the laid-back pace. "The philosophy is, go for it. Enjoy life." says Bil, who adds that a full-time move to Costa Rica is probably five years down the road. Susie, 41, explains, "Our kids will be at that age—Anna is now 14, Krista 10—where we can do something different." Whenever they go, their plans don't preclude a return visit. "Wouldn't it be great to come to the inn as a person?" she says. "One of our fantasies is to go sit on the porch and have dinner served to us.
Bil and Susie met on a blind date in 1973 as students at the University of Southern Connecticut. After finishing college, the two Connecticut natives—Susie, the oldest of five girls, was raised in Simsbury and Bil is from Westbrook—married and settled in New Haven. Bil, whose restaurant career started when he was 16, worked in an Italian restaurant as an assistant manager, and Susie taught at a local elementary school. But their lives changed forever the day Bil saw an ad in Yankee for an abandoned estate overlooking Kezar Lake on Maine's border with New Hampshire. "My jaw dropped," Bil recalls of the first time he saw the place. To say that it needed work is like saying that the Colosseum in Rome is a little run-down, but at $39,500 the price was right. With a small bank loan and help from local craftsmen, they worked day and night for months, ripping down walls, building counters, renovating the plumbing and installing a first-class kitchen.
The Center Lovell Inn opened on Memorial Day weekend in 1975. Though the early years were a struggle, the inn's reputation slowly began to spread, due in part to Bil's general skill in the kitchen and his lobster fra diavolo, the inn's specialty. By the seventh year the Moscas were breaking even, and since 1983 they have done well enough in the slimmer to enable them to close the inn from November to April.
Because they have put so much of themselves into the Center Lovell Inn, the Moscas insist that the new owner run it for at least one full season and that the exterior remain while with green or black shutters. (They are hunter green now.) "One of those flashing arrows pointing to the inn would just kill me," says Susie, who lies awake nights worrying that the new owner will ruin the inn's esthetic. "We want someone who is looking for what we wanted," says Bil. "A chance at the American dream."
TOM MORONEY in Center Lovell