INTERVIEW: Harold Friehling - Stevensville Country Club


Harold Friehling was one of the driving forces in the expansion of the Stevensville Country Club into a yearround resort. Located on the banks of Swan Lake in the Town of Liberty, the resort originally was run by Harry Dinnerstein, but later was operated by the Dinnerstein-Friehling families when Harold married Harry’s daughter Arlene.

Harold spoke in 2012 about his memories of the hotel:


 

It seems like you were always competing with yourself.

You had to. You couldn’t stop. The Catskills grew like top seed. You had a good season, you built six rooms, you built eight. We had cottages but that didn’t work because people got very sophisticated. They didn’t want to go to cottages anymore. They wanted to be in a main edifice or connected to a main edifice so they didn’t have to go out in inclement weather.

 

What was some of the expansion?

In 1962 we built a wing onto the main building called the Presidential Wing. It consisted of 45 rooms. And in 1963 we put an addition on the dining room to take care of the guests in those 45 rooms, the 90 or 100 people. We also built a nightclub. The original nightclub was a casino. We took a building that was the Executive House, took the old nightclub, bar and cocktail lounge terrace and we built 44 rooms out of there. All with private bath. And little by little we started to grow. Business was good then. Very good. We found out from the architect that the building would sustain another floor, so we turned a three-story building into a four-story building.

 

What motivated you to stay open yearround?

The main reason you stay open in the winter is to take away some of the expenses you have for two months and parcel them out over 12 months. If you close, like we used to close after Yom Kippur and then open again for Passover, those months’ expenses went on.

Mortgage had to be paid. Taxes had to be paid. Whatever expenses we had there, electric, very expensive up here. Very expensive. We found out that even if we broke even in winter, we made money because we paid the bills – which wasn’t easy.

 

Folks really would vacation back then.

The clientele originally in the summertime were the people who came up and spent anywhere from two, four, six, even eight weeks; they spent the entire summer season up there. In a number of cases the wife would stay up there all summer and the husband would come back up on weekends.

 

But eventually that changed.

Those people who stayed four or eight weeks either moved away or died off. Suddenly we had people staying two, three days – maybe a week. We had to make package deals to get people to stay three days.

 

And that cost you?

We had a tremendous turnover of guests. The more people coming in and out, the more you have to replace the carpeting, drapes, beds, mattresses. And all the while you still have to create more rooms to pay for the old rooms.

 

And you had to expand services.

Instead of just getting regular guests, we went after groups, conventions. Then we needed year-round facilities. We built an ice-skating rink, indoor tennis,
racquetball courts, we had snowmobiling on the lake. Whatever we could do. And if we didn’t, we’d close like the smaller hotels. We built a golf course in 1965 that cost $609,000. I can’t believe that I remember that. We had a clubhouse, dining room, driving range ... we became a complete hotel.

 

What was the relationship like with the locals?

The people who lived there for the most part didn’t like the hotels. They liked the income and the jobs and the tax money – but not the hotels.

 

Talk about the final years.

It was amazing. The years between the mid-’50s until ’84 were just tremendous. We couldn’t get to the bank fast enough. Then all of a sudden it went bad. When you see Grossinger’s starting to close and selling – Grossinger’s – that was prime property. It all went fast. We were getting conventions they used to have.

Same thing with the Concord, Pines, Brown’s. All getting the Grossinger’s conventions. But it couldn’t sustain. A lot of places build condos. We build
time shares. Didn’t help. People got tired of the area. They wanted new. They wanted cruises.

 

What happened the last time you went back?

I cried. It was like my child. Broken windows. Filth. Odors. Stuff that never existed with us. You saw a piece of paper on the floor, you picked it up. It was very difficult to see that place. There was a big “For Sale” sign. I refused to go in.

 

What else upset you about seeing the hotel?

That another few generations won’t even know what the Catskills were. What we had here. The entertainers. The guests. The perfect year-round place for people to get away and enjoy. They’ll have no idea any of it was here.

 

           




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