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Mandavilles’ ‘cottage industry’ in Olcott is flourishing

OLCOTT – Summertime along Lake Ontario – easy chairs, lake breezes, fishing poles, screened porches, relaxed living in cozy enclaves of colorful cottages.

You could say Bev and Dan Mandaville have turned their devotion to local hospitality into a “cottage industry.”

The retired managing partners of a Newfane insurance agency, the Mandavilles own and rent out five cottages, ranging in size from one to five bedrooms, as well as an upscale lakefront home in Olcott. They also renovated a circa 1892 building and have operated the Brookins Inn & Suites since 2009 at 2697 Maple Ave., Newfane, which offers three guest rooms and two suites.

But back to those cottages, which are just steps away from the Town of Newfane Marina, because summer is, after all, high cottage season.

The couple bought their first cottage 22 years ago at of West Main and Water streets, which they named “Tenbrook House.” It was operating as a rental when they purchased and renovated it, so some of their return guests have been acquainted with this yellow clapboard structure even longer than they have, the Mandavilles noted.

Their first customers were fishermen who needed a place to stay while pursuing the salmon, trout and other fish for which Lake Ontario and the nearby Burt Dam area of Eighteen Mile Creek are known. Then they took the garage next door and added more space onto it during renovations and created their second rental cottage, which they dubbed “The Franklin House,” a cozy green number.

It wasn’t long before they decided to make an offer on two neglected cottages across the street and acquired what would become “The Albright House,” in blue, and its neighbor, the orange “G.H. Fletcher House.” The names honor illustrious early residents of Olcott.

And the fishing poles casually leaning against the walls of the white five-bedroom house tucked behind the Franklin House indicate what these recent vacationers have been up to. The couple converted the house into a rental cottage and dubbed it “Harbor House.”

The latest acquisition is an upscale two-bedroom beauty right on the shores of Lake Ontario, which they purchased in November. And it’s already booked solid until Oct. 1.

The couple rents the properties by the day or week, with a two-day minimum on weekends and rates from $110 for two guests per night in the cottages (and $20 for each additional guest) to $225 for two per night in the swanky lake house. They provide all linens and kitchen ware.

“We tell people they just need to bring their personal belongings and food,” Bev said.

And while fishermen still are a good part of their trade, families also are attracted to the cottages because of their proximity to the Olcott Beach Carousel Park, Krull Park on the shores of the lake and even Niagara Falls, Bev said.

“We have a mix of customers,” Bev noted. “And they’re from all over the world. They come from Connecticut, Alabama, California, West Virginia, Texas – even Germany. It’s all because of the website, and 50 percent is repeat business.”

Dan added, “They know us and they know our product and how we take care of our places.”

The cottages are available year-round, although Bev said that January, February and March are generally quiet.

“But our high season is longer than most resort areas,” she noted. “It runs from April 1 to Jan. 1. October, November and half of December are very busy because of the salmon fishing.”

Clearly, the local hospitality industry has been a good match for this couple, but how did they first get involved?

“I always liked real estate,” Dan said. “I always read the real estate sections of the paper. It was really part of what I did in insurance because we insured real estate, and I was talking to people about it all of the time, so it was a fairly natural evolution.

“We had monthly rental properties in the area for more than 30 years,” he said. “But the cottage business is very different – it’s much more hands-on. With apartments, unless the roof leaks or there are plumbing problems, they pretty much run themselves, but people renting cottages have a lot of questions. You really have to be tour guides. They want to know where to buy groceries and what restaurants you recommend and such. It really gives your business more personality. And then people are more likely to come back when you have a connection.”

Do you have to be handy to own rental cottages? Well, it certainly helps.

“If I can fix it, I do, and if I can’t, I hire,” Dan said.

For anyone interested in owning and renting out cottages, Bev warns to make sure your photos and text on your website match your offerings.

“Make sure it represents what your customers will get,” she said.

“Tourism is huge here,” she added. “People want to experience the lake, the Niagara Wine Trail, Niagara Falls, or just visit family and not everyone wants to stay in a hotel.”

For information, visit conveniencecottages.com. email: niagaranews@buffnews.com