Business: Guest House's Longevity Is A Tribute To 97-year-old Matriarch

By: Debra Lawless

Brothers Michael and Chris Mazulis with their grandmother Vera, who turns 97 Nov. 21. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM – When Vera Mazulis retired from her job in Hartford, Conn. in 1975, she and her husband Joseph bought the historic Bow Roof House at 59 Queen Anne Rd. as a “retirement gig.”

Forty-six years later — longer than the length of many people’s entire careers — Vera, whose 97th birthday is Nov. 21, is still running the guest house along with her son David and his family. Joseph died in 1982.

The guest house’s longevity “speaks to the house itself and Grandma’s hospitality,” says Vera’s grandson Chris Mazulis, 23. “She is the calling card of the house.”

While the guest house (the term Vera prefers to bed and breakfast) has prospered with regulars returning each year, it is regenerating itself with a “new wave of millennials,” Chris says. The average length of a stay is three or four nights, but one guest stayed for three years. A German woman named Heidi stayed for a year. Eventually Vera, David and Chris visited Heidi at her home outside Berlin.

“It was kind of surreal,” Chris says. “You meet someone in Chatham and you visit them in the world.”

Guests share a table at breakfast, which consists of coffee, pastries and fruit. They also share a communal living room and outdoor patios.

“We’ve been pretty lucky with our guests,” David says. Listing the accommodations on Airbnb in 2013 drew in a new clientele, and now 80 percent of the guests find the guest house through the service. The guest house is also listed in Frommer’s Travel Guides, which brings in European guests.

In reviews on the Airbnb site, guests emphasize the friendliness of their hosts, the great location on Queen Anne Road near Main Street and Oyster Pond, and in the era of COVID-19, the guest house’s cleanliness. Some guests also mention the historic nature of the two-century-old Bow Roof House, which has a fascinating history.

The house was built around 1800 for Captain Solomon Howes, who dreamed of building a showy “captain’s house.” Unfortunately, when Howes went off to sea he left the project — and his cash — in the care of a friend who was a drinker. By the time the friend got around to building the captain’s house, sufficient funds remained only for a small, bow-roofed house with an unfinished second floor. The house remained in the Howes family for many years before being sold into the Harding and Swan families.

While the modest building might have disappointed Howes, who wanted a large square house, the house has not lost its charm. The roof is quite literally bowed and, resembling the hull of a ship turned upside down, should have made the captain feel right at home.

In 1936 another Swan family (unrelated to the previous Swan family) owned the property as well as the house across the street, which they expanded into what is now the Queen Anne Inn.

Chris is proud of the house’s lengthy history. Growing up, “we knew it was old, but we didn’t understand the significance,” he says. “You’re young and naïve.”

For people running small hotels, inns and guest houses, relationships are the name of the game. Each guest brings his or her own story through the doors, Chris says. Many years ago, a member of the rock group Kiss stayed in the house. While the musician “wouldn’t say who he was,” other guests guessed he was one of the co-founders of the band formed in the early 1970s. He played the piano that used to be in the living room, and signed a Kiss record for one of Vera’s nieces.

When Vera bought the Bow Roof House she lived in one of the bedrooms before building herself a kitchen and private living space. Through the years, Vera has overseen many improvements to the house, including adding private baths to the three upstairs bedrooms. The establishment now operates with six en suite guest bedrooms.

In the early days, running an inn was as simple as hanging a sign out and bringing in walk-in traffic, David says. Back then the rooms went for $18 or $20 a night. “Now it’s pretty hard to come down to the Cape without a reservation.”

These days, rooms at the Bow Roof House run for between $133 and $150 a night — a price point that Chris describes as one of the lowest locally. Guests at big weddings in expensive venues often choose the Bow Roof House when they learn how costly ($500 or more a night) rooms in the big hotels can be in season.

While you might think that the coronavirus pandemic had chipped away at the business, in fact recent years were the busiest on record, as some people didn’t want to stay in the big hotels, Chris says. David adds that a backlog of weddings postponed from 2020 also brought in an influx of guests.

Chris, who graduated from Monomoy Regional High School in 2017, is now employed as a business analyst in Boston, but he is able to work at the inn on weekends and vacations. He says the family’s long-term plan is to keep the inn going and improve the property.

And meantime, the family looks forward to celebrating Vera’s 97th birthday on Nov. 21.