TATAMAGOUCHE – Jimmie LeFresne is a positive man, so keeping the Train Station Inn closed this summer during the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t going to be an option.
He thought about it, and discussed it with his staff, but in the end, he knew he would be open for business one way or another.
“I was always thinking we would open, even if business was to sell a cup of coffee. It is what it is,” said LeFresne, who relies heavily on tourists from Ontario, the United States, and the European countries every season. “Now is not the time to complain. Now is the time to find a new way to do things.”
With restrictions starting to ease within the province of Nova Scotia, it’s still not going to bring the usual 40,000 visitors to the unique business. Instead, LeFresne says they’re looking at having around 10,000 people visit.
“For every reservation we get, we have about 11 or 12 cancellations,” said LeFresne. “But I have high hopes and I’m a positive man.”
Without being able to rely on their normal tourists dropping by, LeFresne says this summer is an opportunity for locals, as well as those throughout the province.
“When the locals would call up for a room before, we would be booked. Most of our visitors will book their trip a year in advance. Therefore, this is the opportunity for Nova Scotians to travel throughout the province, and be able to stay in one of our railcars. That opportunity wasn’t afforded to them before.”
LeFresne says the wonderful thing about their nine sleep cars is they’re already self-isolating, so those wishing to get away for a night, a weekend, a week, or even longer, won’t have to worry about being in close proximity to others.
As customers finish their stay, LeFresne says the railcars are sanitized and cleaned, and then sanitized again just before the next customer arrives.
The dining car has switched to a take-out service, with an overhaul of their menu items.
“Some of our mainstays aren’t stable enough for take-outs, so we’ve moved to items such as wraps, English muffins, and seasonal waffles,” said the stationmaster, adding the change in menu items has also meant a change in pricing, with items on the breakfast menu, for example, now starting at around $4 instead of $10.
“With our food service, we’ve moved to 100 per cent take-out, but we’ve taken our tables and seating and moved them to our railway platform,” he said. “People can still eat here, or they can take it home.”
With many businesses, including grocery stores, creating one-way movement within their operations to also help with physical distancing, LeFresne put a little bit of creative thought into what could be used instead of directional arrows in the gift shop.
“Here, people can follow railway tracks,” he said.
While not all staff have been brought on board for the season, LeFresne says they’re working on a plan to call them back immediately should the Train Station Inn become busy.
Always wanting to have an online presence, the pandemic gave LeFresne an opportunity to do just that, and started offering some of the gift shop items online.
“We rejigged some of our items and started offering not so much souvenirs, but more items such as quilts, mats, clothing, ‘onesies’ for babies for example. It will never replace the gift shop, but we’re pleased with the initial response so far.”
This time of year, LeFresne estimates the Train Station Inn would be about 80 per cent full in regards to reservations. Instead, “we have a couple hundred.”
“I expect we’ll be down about 75 per cent all over by the end of the season.”
Jimmie LeFresne lays new track at Tatamagouche’s Train Station Inn to ensure social distancing stays on the rails. (Submitted photo)