|By Lori Becker, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 13, 2004 - Every morning for 13 years, Tony and Cathy Fillichio had breakfast with their staff and guests under the lattice-covered patio at the Hutchinson Inn.
Nestled among the high-rise condominiums along the south end of Hutchinson Island, the two-story inn had built a faithful following since the couple bought the rundown hotel and turned it into a local landmark, a quiet, winter oasis for hundreds of Floridians and Northerners alike.
But the couple is calling it quits, selling the battered bed-and-breakfast after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne walloped the 32-year-old inn, one of the oldest on the island.
"There's nothing left of it. There's no way I could rebuild," said Tony Fillichio, 61. "We'll never have anything like it again. I was proud of this place. It was like going to a party every day."
Between Frances and Jeanne, the inn lost its roof, leaving the second-floor rooms looking to the sky. The storms washed out the concrete deck and walkway from the pool to the beach, tore off the balconies on the oceanfront suites and blew open guest-room doors, tossing around the furniture inside.
Sand and debris cover the lawn, and the 21 rooms, once turquoise and pink, are now green from mold.
"It could have been worse," said Tony Fillichio, whose home up the street was nearly unscathed in the storms. "I've just got to keep thinking that to stay normal. I'm having a tough time, though. ... It was something that I would never have gotten rid of."
The couple wouldn't estimate what it might cost to rebuild the inn, sitting on 1 1/2 acres near Nettles Island in St. Lucie County. Each year, the couple would put part of their profits back into the inn. This summer's project: new bedspreads and decor for the guest rooms.
"We put our hearts and souls into that business... making it what it was," said Cathy Fillichio, 61. "With all the new building codes, it would be prohibitive to start building something like that all over again. Insurance wouldn't likely cover even half the costs."
The couple has already fielded offers from potential buyers for the property, prime real estate despite the hurricanes. The Fillichios wouldn't say how much the hotel brought in annually, but that it was more successful each passing year.
"It was really coming into its own this year," Cathy Fillichio said. "This was our first year that it was really happening.... We don't know what to do next. My husband is beside himself because he's a worker. He'll have to learn how to retire."
The couple has refunded more than 300 deposits for reservations for the upcoming season. The inn's Web site briefly tells patrons that Frances destroyed the inn.
As news of the destruction spread, letters have poured in from loyal patrons.
"We all felt as if there had been a death in the family, and we're grieving," said Renee Andersen, 69, of Erwinna, Pa. The inn was a winter getaway for Andersen and her husband, Kenneth, who have spent up to three months at a time at the bed-and-breakfast during the past nine years.
"The more you went, the longer you stayed the next year," she said. "It was so special. We loved that little place right on the ocean. None of us were interested in high-rise condos."
The Fillichios credit much of their success to their five longtime employees, who have all moved on to new jobs. "No one had help like I did," he said. "The people that worked here and came here made the place."
Each morning, guests were greeted by "Aunt Joanie," the on-site manager, and Rosie O'Donnell, the bulldog, who lived at the inn. And homemade cookies were delivered to the rooms each night.
"I used to tell them it was the jewel of the island," said Bill Pullen, general manager of the nearby Holiday Inn Oceanside, which expects to be closed for nearly a year while it repairs damage from the hurricanes. "It was more than nice facilities. They ran it from their hearts."
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