When you meet Mary Passalacqua, you can tell that she reaps great joy from her second career as the proprietor of the Woolverton Inn and enjoys sharing that joy with each and every guest who graces its front door in Stockton, New Jersey. If you read my recent blog post about my romantic and relaxing overnight at the Inn, you’ll understand why I am so impressed with this award-winning bed & breakfast and the woman who runs it. Within driving distance from Philadelphia and New York City, the Inn is a perfect oasis for a getaway when you want to unwind and take time to stop, breathe and be.
Becoming a post 50 female entrepreneur
As a new fan of Woolverton Inn, I was curious to learn more about Mary and why she decided to become an entrepreneur post 50. She agreed to sit down for an interview during my visit. If you have ever thought about reinventing yourself in pre-or-post retirement, I think you’ll find Mary’s story inspiring. Here are excerpts from our chat:
Q: Tell me about your background.
Mary: “I am the oldest of 7 children and grew up in Connecticut with strong influence from my dad’s family who immigrated to the United States from Italy. I attended Tufts University in Boston, aiming for medical school — only to discover that I get weak at the sight of blood or needles!
My husband Mario and I met during our senior year and married six months after graduation. Being a very practical girl, who always worked, I used my degree and got my first few jobs as a chemist. While working full-time, Mario and I attended New York University Stern School of Business in the evenings. After obtaining my MBA, I applied my skills at several large manufacturing companies working in corporate finance for the next 25 years. Mario and I both worked full-time while raising our three children. We had au-pairs and spent two years in Milan as ex-pats. It was an amazing experience.”
Q: What made you want to become an entrepreneur post 50?
Mary: “I was fortunate to have worked for 28 years at four large corporations before my first ‘pink slip’ arrived, notably when I was 50 years old! With determination, I managed to find another job, but I started to seriously look at options to own or run a small business. I knew I wanted to keep working and that I had a lot of great experience. I just needed some reinvention and new direction.”
Q: What made you decide to purchase an inn?
Mary: “This was really a dream that began in Binghamton, NY, right after our wedding in 1984. Mario and I would visit pretty country inns around upstate New York and along the Hudson Valley. We would talk to the owners and loved the small towns, their history, food and warm hospitality. It reminded us of our respective families and upbringing. In 2000 to nurture their dream, the two went to an educational workshop about running a bed & breakfast.
Before I left corporate life in 2015, I started to look more broadly at my skills and what I was good at. I always felt drawn to being a part of the community. Mario and I began to think about owning an inn in a location that was in a good market. We felt an inn was a business we could do together and that would be fun.
Q: What do you like most about running an inn?
Mary: “It’s exciting. I love meeting our guests. I never know who is going to walk in the door every day. People are always happy to arrive. Many are new to Woolverton, so that gives us so much potential.
We work hard, but half the time it doesn’t feel like work. I love the lifestyle of living in the country. Running Woolverton Inn gives me the chance to be outdoors and work in the garden while taking in nature’s beautiful gifts.”
Q: What are your greatest challenges?
Mary: “We’re in a rural part of New Jersey unlike the crowded Northeast cities, so finding and keeping great talent is a challenge. This is a big area for tourism so we’re all competing for the same great employees.”
Q: Any tips for other boomer women who are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur?
Mary: “Be aware of the full scope of what you are undertaking and be prepared to own it all, from the most menial jobs to the more strategic roles. Also, it’s not just what you do but how you are perceived by your staff, clients, business partners and community, Perceptions matter so you must be mindful of what you say and how you communicate. Finally, you really need to understand the numbers to keep your business healthy and viable.
Q: What about if you just want to make a career change or if one involuntarily happens?
Mary: “Women our age have a tremendous amount of experience to share with others. If you want to make a career change open the bottle. Have confidence. Take the opportunity to look at things totally differently and draw out the positives. I found patterns when I started to look closely at my attributes and skills.
Leverage your friendships and let people help you. Our generation of women are so supportive of each other. I regret I discovered the value of networking later.”
Q: How can people make reservations at Woolverton Inn?
Mary: “We staff the Inn from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. each day, which is not always done anymore, but this is how we prefer to book rooms so we can talk to the guests, answer questions and learn how we can make their stay wonderful. Guests can also book directly on our website www.woolvertoninn.com or through a third party such as Expedia, Booking.com or AirBnb.”
Q: Anything else you would like to share?
Mary: “I would love to tell you about our business, which includes wonderful getaways for couples, friends, families, mother-daughter, etc, weddings and elopements and a growing number of small meetings or retreats.
I’d also like to share that in the past four years we have made significant improvements to the main house and surrounding property and are about to embark on a very exciting barn renovation project. We are securing the barn structure so we can host wedding or other group events, maintaining the authentic design but making it safe for occupants.”
Q: Any closing thoughts?
Mary: “Running an inn is a big responsibility, but I really enjoy the benefits of country living. (Mary lives in a house across from the Inn.) Sometimes the work can be physical – outside in the garden or grounds. There are simple aspects of being here and they feel good. You have a clear mind when you go to sleep. It’s so restful.”
Thanks Mary for sharing your story. Are you ready to book your visit to Woolverton Inn? Go call up right now for a holiday getaway or winter retreat in 2020. Go, go, you’ll be glad you did.