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A Night at The Roxbury: The 9/11 terrorist attacks motivated this couple to turn to innkeeping.
August 8, 2011

On the subject of overcoming adversity, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” For Greg Henderson, co-owner of The Roxbury Motel in Roxbury, New York, those stars came into focus in the wake of a massive tragedy that hit a bit too close to home.

Henderson, a former stage and screen actor, was working at a Wall Street startup firm when the 9/11 attacks rocked New York City in 2001. Henderson and his partner, Joseph Massa, a veteran of theater set construction, were living in Manhattan at the time, but the resulting anthrax scares and heightened terror threat levels led them to re-examine the direction in which their lives were headed.

“When catastrophic events happen in the world around you, you realize how fast your life can change,” Henderson explains. The couple had recently purchased a weekend cabin in New York’s Catskill Mountains, but in the wake of the attacks, they decided to move upstate full time. Though neither had any experience in hospitality, they read a book called “So You Want to Be an Innkeeper” and purchased a rundown motel in nearby Roxbury in 2004. They planned on simply turning the property into an upscale, modern alternative to the array of decades-old bed and breakfasts in the area, but an unexpected source of inspiration sparked the idea for what would be come a truly unique lodging establishment.

While on vacation in Palm Springs, Henderson spotted a wallpaper pattern that reminded him of his favorite childhood TV show “I Dream of Jeannie.” “The shape, the colors. It took my breath away,” he says. “It was like a sign.” A lifelong interior design buff, Henderson knew that he had to find a way to incorporate this eye-catching element into his new motel.

With Henderson’s knack for design and Massa’s expert construction skills, they turned one of the motel’s suites into “Genie’s Bottle,” an homage to the cult classic, complete with pink and purple throw pillows, marble dust and glitter glass mosaic tiles, and a spherical bathroom built to resemble the inside a genie’s bottle. “I thought people might think it was over the top,” Henderson recalls, “but they ate it up.”

Henderson and Massa went on to create a place where each of the 27 guestrooms and suites feels like its own unique world, many recalling 1960’s and 70’s movies and TV shows. This family-friendly locale executes its vision with equal parts class and whimsy. “Fred’s Lair” brings guests into the Flinstones’ house, where in-ground pebbles line the floors and the asymmetrical mirrors are framed with recovered driftwood. “Angel Hair” features “Charlie’s Angels”-style silhouettes on the walls and a three-dimensional sculpture of Farrah Fawcett’s famous locks. A fiber optic board built into the ceiling of the “Star Trek”-themed “Final Frontier” creates the illusion of being inside a spaceship that is moving through the galaxy.

“The level of detail is amazing,” says recent guest Jodi Waldman. “From the chandeliers down to the wine glasses, everything in each room is chosen with care. Everywhere you turn, there’s something new to look at.”

The future of The Roxbury Motel is wide open. Henderson has immediate plans to expand the Catskills location, and in the long term, he hopes to bring his concept to other parts of the country. “I think there is a real market for what we do, and you can do it relatively affordably,” he says.

With their fierce determination and unencumbered imaginations, Henderson and Massa won’t need a genie to make that dream come true.

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