In the early part of the 20th century, as the automobile became affordable and highways were built to connect the country, Americans took to the road. Numerous family-owned motels popped up along the routes to accommodate them.
It was during that era that the Branson Motor Court in Branson, Missouri, came into being. By then, the Ozarks was already a popular tourist spot. Before the century was out, Branson’s popularity as a live entertainment destination had soared.
And the Branson Motor Court lived on.
However three years ago, owner-managers Brian and Deana Acton realized that the era of the motor court had passed.
People just didn’t seem to know what a motor court was anymore.
So, the Actons took action, and Branson Motor Court was reborn as Sandpiper Landing Inn.
Named after two beloved pets — the Actons’ former Shar-Pei, Sandi, and their current Shar-Pei, Piper — the motel underwent a renovation in addition to a name change. Brian’s parents, Ken and Gloria Acton, bought the property in the mid-1970s, and things were dated and in need of an upgrade.
It was during this time that Deana first reached out to the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Missouri State University (MSU). After taking a class through the SBDC, Deana connected with business development consultant Sandra Smart.
“They [The SBDC] advised us on how to do a business plan and how to seek additional funding for some improvements to our property.”
Fast-forward to 2020. With the name change and renovations behind them, the Actons were beginning a marketing upgrade, to include a redesigned website, a fresh social media presence, and a blog by their guest-loving mascot Piper.
“Then COVID hit,” Deana said. She quickly learned some new terms, including Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).
PPP and EIDL were among the temporary financing programs established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help small businesses survive the downturn in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attempting to acquire information about these coronavirus relief programs, Deana took webinars offered through the Missouri SBDC at MSU and connected with business development consultant Sandra Smart.
Smart said the she and Deana talked through the different resources and options that were available, including the PPP, the EIDL and the advance on the EIDL.
Then Deana did the calculations and told Smart that, based on all the information they had talked about, “‘here’s the best path for us right now,’” Smart said.
“We decided the PPP wasn’t for us,” Deana said, because payroll the previous year had not been enough to make a PPP loan worthwhile for the inn.
“So, we applied for the EIDL loan,” Deana said.
“Sandra helped us through the process of the EIDL loan because there were some tricky questions,” Deana said.
Deana applied for the loan the day after the form went online.
“It took about 10 weeks to know if [we were] even going to get it,” Deana said. “We got the advance. And then it was another four weeks, probably, before we actually got the loan money.”
It was a long process, definitely. And [Smart] was very, very supportive through it all.
“She was available whenever something strange came up or when you just couldn’t figure something out,” Deana said about Smart.
Smart also worked with Deana to access resources that were available to help their business “weather the storm” because of the downturn in sales and “the extra precautions that needed to be put in place to address the cleaning and the extra time for the rooms and everything associated with being safe for COVID.”
“[The EIDL] is basically covering our operating expenses for six months,” Deana said. “Without it, I can’t even imagine … I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t be in business.”
Deemed an essential business in Branson, Sandpiper Landing Inn remained open even during Missouri’s stay-at-home order, but “at a very diminished capacity,” Deana said.
“They had solid bookings for the week of spring break but most cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Smart said. Business went down drastically due to the stay-at-home order.
Since the travel restrictions have eased, business has been up and down.
The mask mandate instituted by Branson’s Board of Alderman on July 31 may be helping.
“I feel like we’re actually having more visitors because of it,” Deana said.
According to a survey conducted by Branson’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, “most of our [Branson’s] visitors actually feel more comfortable visiting, feel safer” because of the city’s mask mandate, Deana said.
Branson’s mask mandate was recently extended through Oct. 14.
So, if you are itching to hit the road — to a city where COVID-19 precautions are being taken seriously — consider a stay at Sandpiper Landing Inn in Branson, and experience the camaraderie of the motor court era while enjoying modern amenities, such as free Wi-Fi. The inn’s doors are still open, thanks to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and Piper will be there to greet you as you come through them!
Website: http://sandpiperlandinginn.com(opens in new window)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sandpiperlandinginn(opens in new window)
Blog: http://sandpiperlandinginn.com/pipers-adventures(opens in new window)
Writer: Victoria Knapp
This story originally appeared on sbdc.missouri.edu.