Looking forward to its biggest bookings in years, the historic Calumet Inn in Pipestone, Minn., was shut down this month by city officials who condemned the 133-year-old building for fire code violations.
The city’s abrupt action left the hotel’s owner, Tammy Grubbs, in “absolute shock” after local officials ordered her to close just four days after they notified her of the violations that she said could have been easily fixed.
“Is this a dream? Can this happen?” Grubbs said. “A building code guy can see a hole in your wall and come back the next day and shut your building down and take everything you have?”
Grubbs’ frustration started with a routine fire inspection in November by state Deputy Fire Marshal George Shellum. He noted a number of fire code violations and gave Grubbs 90 days to fix them.
Trouble is, he e-mailed his report not to Grubbs, but to the previous owner, who lives in Texas. Grubbs never got the e-mailed report, said her attorney, Greg Erickson.
On March 6 — a Friday — a city official brought Grubbs a copy of the report, she said. The following Monday, the city building officer inspected the building.
The next day — Tuesday, March 10 — the building officer returned along with the county sheriff and the city administrator and ordered Grubbs to close the hotel, along with its restaurant and bar, by 5 p.m. that day.
The city building officer, Doug Fortune, declined to comment, as did Ben Denton, an attorney representing the city.
But Erickson said the city had no legal authority to close the hotel over state fire code violations in the way it did. What’s more, he added, Minnesota law requires that an owner be given “reasonable time for compliance” before condemnation can take place.
“A normal time for compliance for something that’s not dangerous is 90 days, and that’s what the fire marshal gave them,” Erickson said. “You don’t just unilaterally shut them down.”
Erickson and Grubbs said the violations were minor and could have been easily fixed. For example, Grubbs said, a ceiling panel was missing from a laundry room.
“That wouldn’t take someone an hour to fix,” she said. Another citation was for furniture stored in a hallway.
The building’s sprinkler system, pumps and fire-suppression controls have all been updated in recent years, she said. They’ve all been tested since the fire marshal’s report and “passed with flying colors,” according to Grubbs and Erickson.
Grubbs bought the hotel two years ago for $500,000 and spent tens of thousands of dollars to repair exterior stonework.
The Calumet, built in 1887, is a destination where guests often stay for a week at a time, Grubbs said.
The 36-room hotel also houseslook workers who are doing projects in the area, such as wind-turbine technicians.
On the day the building was condemned, Grubbs said, she had to go door to door, telling guests that they had four hours to clear out.
“One lady had just gotten here; she was going to spend her birthday week with us,” Grubbs said. “I had [restaurant] customers coming in. Some of them were in here, some of them were getting their orders put in.”
And because the hotel was condemned, Grubbs may not be eligible for federal disaster relief for the hospitality industry that was provided in the coronavirus aid bill that passed Congress last week.
“We’re in a small town,” Grubbs said. “I would think if they noticed something, they would say, ‘Hey, you need to get this fixed in 60 days,’ or whatever.
“But I didn’t get that luxury.”