[Innovation]

Motelier Pink

The Future is Rosé at The June Motel. While the décor is definitely a throwback to the ‘60s, the vibe at The June has millennials booking months in advance.

It was the spring of 2017 when the June motel first opened its doors to friends and neighbours. Lilac season had begun in Prince Edward County and the streets were lined with pink, white and pale purple, particularly along the stretch of Loyalist Parkway just outside of Picton’s core, where the bushes were acres deep and their scent floated on the breeze.

In the months leading up to the opening, there’d been much speculation about the new motel and the girls running it, but it was ‘Launch Day’ and everyone was invited to celebrate. In a community frequently divided over feelings about change, the current chatter was mainly about whether locals would meet up in the lobby for a glass of wine or two.

A high view of the glittering Picton Bay opened up ahead and the road curved as the motel’s retro sign appeared. Cars pulled up to the white brick low-rise and everyone stepped out, pausing for a few beats to take in the little oasis. The June Motel was straight out of 1960-something Palm Springs, complete with pastel pink doors framed by Areca palms. The walls could hear the guests whisper, “How did they choose the exact, perfect colour?”

A year and some earlier, 12351 Loyalist Parkway was the location of the old Sportsman Motel – a fisherman’s haven with signs in the rooms that read, “Please Do Not Gut Fish.” It was rustic and outdated and well-loved and for sale – and two young women, April Brown and Sarah Sklash, friends living and working in Toronto, knew immediately it was the one. “Everything we’ve done was borne out of a need,” Brown explains. “We’d gone to the County with our girlfriends and not been able to find a place to stay. And it wasn’t just us – there was suddenly a broader trend of 20-something girls wanting to escape the city together, but not being able to find a place that was just for them. So we decided to make one.” It was the oldest impetus for innovation in the book: necessity.

It’s spring 2020 and The June’s rooms are booked out for the season. A second location is in development, and the motel has been featured tirelessly in local media and farther afield in Vogue, The New York Times and Forbes, with Brown and Sklash hailed as visionaries. Their “bring-your-girls-getaway” has captivated both travel-savvy guests and keen entrepreneurs. It’s a straightforward formula, really: combine an underserved market with disposable income, some trends on the verge of blowing up, and an idea that resonated deeply with both.

From the start, the women were riding an early wave of a movement. The motor-hotel was big business in the ’50s and ’60s, catering to working-class travellers who needed a cost-sensitive alternative that let them pull off the highway and catch some Z’s between Points A and B. In the mid-’90s, Expedia and its cohorts began providing inexpensive, review-fuelled travel accommodation and motels fell further out of favour with all but the afternoon delight crew. Suddenly, a love affair with the mid-century emerged. Its hallmark clean lines, defined curves and lovely geometric shapes infiltrated the mindset of a generation of city-based millennials – a group that had come into their own as young adults, with good jobs, mortgage-free, rental-based living, and a hunger and budget for authentic experiences. Sklash and Brown’s front seat to this generational niche meant that they recognized the Sportsman immediately for what it was – a rough gem they had all the tools to polish.

This positioning was integral to The June’s success. Every decision they made had to make sense to them as consumers: a glass of rosé at check-in, nightly bonfires in the lobby garden, yoga underneath the tree canopy, fairy-lit dinners in the woods. If it made sense to them, it made sense to their audience. “Motels are undervalued assets that needed to be re-thought and re-imagined from aesthetic to experience,” says Brown of ‘The June phenomenon’ – from its oh-so Instagrammable spaces to unobtrusive text concierge. “We were bringing the era back to life in a new way and it trickled down to the details. These features may be common now, but when we launched three years ago, they were very innovative.”

Location was another huge factor cementing their upward trajectory. “It’s about finding a place that hasn’t peaked yet,” says Brown. “We’re always on the hunt for the next destination. That’s what really gets us excited, from a real estate perspective obviously, but also because you have the chance to help shape that destination.” When The June launched in Prince Edward County, the region was poised for a new influx of tourists: Smartphone-wielding young adults and families that were streaming over the County bridges. The County offered sweeping views of beautiful vineyards, an unaffected wine culture, white sandy beaches with oceanic views of Lake Ontario, and supreme dining options minus the fussiness of fine dining. The ‘upscale motel’ contradiction echoed the burgeoning ‘upscale fast-food’ scene that saw respected chefs executing quality takes on low-brow foods – from Chef Jamie Kennedy’s much-loved french fry truck to the cult-fare at Midtown Brewery from former Savoy Hotel Chef Neil Dowson. Back in 2017, The June Motel and the County were innovating in tandem.

Innovating isn’t a static state, but Sklash and Brown don’t rest, inspo-tripping to research the places that resonate with their market, from California to Montauk and Phoenix to San Diego – folding the best of their experiences into The June. “It’s so important to stay relevant and ensure that we’re growing and developing in the right way. Our team is also growing and we have new perspectives to add to the mix – some of our best ideas come from them,” notes Brown.

Still, trust in your vision is at innovation’s core. “We call this lesson “Stick To Your Pink Doors.” Brown continues, “Early on, Sarah and I said, ‘Let’s paint the motel doors pink.’ We envisioned millennial pink doors as a throwback to the motel era, but everyone we told – friends, family, people working with us – they all hated it. Looking back, it was clear we had a vision. The people around us couldn’t see it, so we painted the doors pink. Three years later, these pink doors are one of the most iconic and photographed elements of The June Motel.”

With their success in Prince Edward County, Sarah Sklash and April Brown have redefined the very purpose of the motel – from an unavoidable stopover to an unforgettable experience.

Story by:
Lonelle Selbo

Photography by:
Lauren Miller