In an unassuming building in the heart of downtown Timmins’ core sits an alternative in accommodation for the weary traveller looking for something different than a traditional hotel room.
Described as a cross between a bed and breakfast and a luxury hotel, Balsam Suites Boutique Inn and Residence has 10 well-appointed rooms that cater to business travellers, executives, and couples seeking retreat.
Quietly opened in October 2014, Balsam Suites is operated by the entrepreneurial Brooks family, comprised of Syd and Lyn Brooks and their daughter, Alisa, who acts as general manager and handles all the reservations.
In many ways, this isn’t a new arena for the family. After moving to Timmins from Toronto more than 40 years ago, Lyn opened an award-winning National Video franchise in Timmins — the city’s first video-rental store — which enjoyed a successful 15-year run. When that closed down, the family operated a series of bars, restaurants, comedy clubs, and dessert shops, all out of the downtown location.
“We’ve always been interested in the hospitality industry,” said Syd Brooks, who operates a law firm out of the same building. “We’ve had restaurants and bars, and video stores, usually firsts for the city of Timmins, and we thought it could use this particular feature, which is essentially a boutique hotel.”
Large, spacious rooms have 10-foot ceilings with crown moulding, and French doors separate the bedroom and living room areas. Beds are outfitted with high-quality linens, and there are 40-inch TVs in all the bedrooms. Some suites come with recliners in the living rooms, and all have electric fireplaces.
The lobby/atrium has a pool table, fireplace, recliners and rocking chairs, as well as a library, which guests are encouraged to use. There is also an exercise room with a treadmill and elliptical machine, and a downstairs kitchen is available for early risers who want to prepare their own meals. Otherwise, breakfast is served between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. in the restaurant.
Guests can watch Netflix on the 50-inch TV in the lobby, and Wi-Fi is free throughout the facility.
At an average rate of $150 per night, which includes a hot breakfast and 24-hour snack bar, the rental cost is on par with many of the traditional hotel rooms in the area, but with a more personal, homey atmosphere. Brooks said they offer special rates for longer-term renters.
“There are a lot of amenities in there that you don’t get at a regular hotel,” he said.
It’s ideal for someone looking for a quiet area to conduct business, away from the boisterous hockey teams and wedding revellers often hosted by the bigger hotels. And because they operate on a smaller scale, Brooks said they can provide more tailored customer service to their small contingent of guests.
But Balsam Suites almost didn’t see life as a hotel.
“Originally, we intended to open it as a seniors’ residence and, in fact, we did open it temporarily on that basis, which is one of the reasons why the rooms are so large and the suites are all there,” Brooks said. “But we found out shortly after we started that that wasn’t really the direction we wanted to go.”
Instead, the family shifted gears, furnishing the rooms and hanging up their shingle in the accommodation business, which was inspired, in part, because of the hotel boom Timmins has experienced in just a few short years.
“We’ve done a lot of world travelling,” Brooks said. “We picked up things we would like to see in one place, took bits and pieces from here and there, put it all together, and this is what we came up with.”
Currently, the family is updating its signage and sprucing up the building’s exterior. They’re also seeking someone to take on operation of the restaurant on a long-term basis.
“We do have a few longer-term people staying, and we’ve made special arrangements to feed them, but we are looking for someone else to run the restaurant as a full-fledged open-to-the-public restaurant, in addition to the breakfasts, which we supply,” Brooks said.
Plans are also in the works to turn the lower level of the building into meeting rooms and conference space. But it’s a large building, and so the family is developing it a part at a time.
Online reviews at popular travel sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia have been enthusiastic in their praise of Balsam Suites, and Brooks said the family is thrilled so far with the experience, already welcoming back repeat customers.
“It’s been better than what we thought; we didn’t really know what to expect when we got into it,” Brooks said.
“We love the hospitality industry, and we just put all our talents and experiences into this particular location to turn it into the sort of thing that we would love to go to.”