Before the beds were stripped bare and the locks were changed, Jean and Larry Zamor stood at the front desk saying goodbye as guests checked out of the Chanhassen Inn for the very last time.
The Zamors, brother and sister and longtime business partners, held back tears as they shared hugs and handshakes with their loyal guests shuffling, luggage in hand, out the door.
“We’ll miss you guys,” they told the Zamors over and over. Some kept their room keys as a memento.
“This is their home away from home,” Jean Zamor said with a sigh. “It feels like a death.”
Next month a wrecking ball will rip down the quaint two-story motel that Jean, 71, and Larry, 65, built with their father 36 years ago, a place where they welcomed celebrities, international travelers and Chanhassen Dinner Theatre patrons. The Zamors are retiring, and a Panera Bread cafe soon will replace the inn just off Hwy. 5, 2 miles east of Prince’s Paisley Park estate.
Chanhassen residents, and frequent guests there, say the family-owned motel will be dearly missed.
“This is one of the last jewels of Chanhassen,” said Susan McAllister, who booked an extended-stay room this week while moving into a new apartment. “You’re a person to them, not just money.”
The modest 74-unit inn became a community staple over the past four decades, known for its quirky sleep-related signs such as “Snuggle Up with Us.” It offered few frills — there was no pool, business lounge or fancy industrial kitchen — just clean rooms for affordable rates ($86 per night) and the “friendliest staff in town.”
The Zamors, of Tonka Bay, say their clientele never seemed to mind the lack of amenities. Stars like Bill Murray, Mel Tillis and Sheila E. sought refuge there to avoid paparazzi on jaunts to Minnesota, and regular guests developed friendships with the small staff.
“I won’t stay anywhere else,” said Prem Sodi of Toronto.
Jean and Larry’s father, Lawrence Zamor, had an eye for real estate. So in 1979 he bought some farmland a block from the booming dinner theater complex. Chanhassen, a growing community, had no lodging and he thought it could use some.
Guests from afar
The siblings had spent several years running a Mr. Donut in Robbinsdale and were ready to sell. Though she had no hospitality experience, Jean was happy that her father tapped her to operate the inn. Larry joined a year later, assuming the roles of handyman and co-owner.
The Zamors catered to corporate travelers and visiting grandparents, offering initial rates of $26.50 a night. By the mid-1980s, business was booming and they expanded three times to accommodate more guests.
When the Eckankar religious organization moved to Chanhassen in 1986, the inn was among the first to open its doors to its diverse followers. Some residents who didn’t understand the New Age religion balked, but not the Zamors.
“They welcomed us with open arms, that’s why we’re so loyal,” said Greta Man of Sarasota, Fla. Two hotels are closer to the Eckankar temple, but for the past 26 years Man has chosen to stay at the inn during Eckankar’s annual seminar.
The homey lobby has remained a gathering place for strangers to sit and sip coffee together. On Thursday, fellow Eckists from Switzerland, Nigeria and Germany gathered for the inn’s last continental breakfast. “It’s an honor to be here on their last day,” said Barbara Hoefert of Cologne, Germany.
Another Chanhassen neighbor also drew visitors, in death as well as life. Prince rented blocks of rooms at the inn for his bandmates during the filming of “Purple Rain” in 1983 and 1984. Since his death in 2016, devotees have flocked to town on pilgrimages to Paisley Park and stayed at the inn. One woman flew in from Japan for just one day to pay her respects, staffers said.
‘People are heartsick’
All the while, Jean and Larry Zamor put off their succession plan. Neither has children, so there was no obvious heir. “There was really no one to pass it down to,” Larry said.
Panera representatives approached them in November 2016 about buying the property. The parties agreed to a 15-year land lease that enabled the Zamors to retain property rights and allowed Panera to build there. The news came as a surprise to the inn’s seven employees.
“That’s what scares me the most. I won’t be destitute, but it’s tough,” said Leona Woodworth, a longtime front desk employee. “This has been my home for 23 years.”
Chanhassen Mayor Denny Laufenburger said he was sad to see the inn go, but that Panera would bring 40 new jobs for young people to the area and that the local market was growing enough to attract more lodging in its place. Area attractions such as the Minnesota Arboretum, the dinner theaters and Paisley Park draw an estimated 1 million visitors a year, he said.
On Thursday, the inn’s last day, well-wishers dropped off flowers and guests passed around cards to sign. A housekeeper gave chocolates to the Zamors.
By the time the clock struck noon, all 28 guests had checked out and it was time to move on.
“It’s over,” said Jean, posing with Larry behind the front desk as staffers snapped photos with their cellphones. She plans to save her favorite purple Prince print from the lobby and donate furnishings before the building comes down, sometime in late April.
“People are heartsick,” said front desk clerk Shirley Warren, 85. “This is their life. It’s going to be hard for them to get up in the morning and not drive straight to the hotel.”