New Owners at Springs Motel • The Yellow Springs News

The Springs Motel, Yellow Springs’ funky little roadside respite, has new owners.

The Knickerbocker family, owners of local business Knickerbocker Pools & Spas, settle just three miles down Route 68.

Father-son duo Tom and Austin Knickerbocker bought the 12-room motel in January for $585,000 from area residents and full-time farmers Kat Krehbiel Johnston and Marc Johnston.

“We go up and down 68 all the time, so we’ve seen this place for years – and we’ve seen the sale register for a while,” Austin Knickerbocker said in a recent interview. “So, we did.”

In the past five weeks alone, the Knickerbockers have breathed new life into the 66-year-old motel. And now, after being vacant for nearly two years, it is open for business again.

The Knickerbockers have already solved a litany of problems with top-to-bottom renovations.

They repaired the ruined roof; installed new ceilings, panels and flooring throughout; equipped each room with new beds, mini-refrigerators, cable televisions and other modern amenities; and touched up both the interior and exterior with fresh coats of paint.

“We build things for a living,” Austin Knickerbocker said with a smile. “We knew we could rebuild a motel – now we’re just learning how to run one.”

Longtime residents of Miami Valley, the Knickerbockers have always been in and around Yellow Springs. Tom Knickerbocker’s father, Don, started the family pool business just south of the village in 1976. Since then, Knickerbocker Pools & Spas has expanded to five other locations in the area.

Although Tom spent much of his life overseeing his family’s affairs, he also worked part-time in law enforcement for several years. From 1993 to 2018, he was a part-time patrolman in Yellow Springs — “working as a back-up whenever they needed me,” he said. Now, he fills a similar auxiliary role for the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.

His 29-year-old son and business partner, Austin, has also spent much of his life in the family swimming pool business. And just like his dad, Austin knows how to stay busy. When he’s not hiking, climbing or mountain biking in John Bryan State Park, he helps his family manage their dozens of short- and long-term rental properties in the area.

Hospitality, however, is a new business for father and son – but already it’s proving successful.

“About the day we closed the motel, people started coming to us to book a stay,” Tom Knickerbocker told The News. “Even though we were still doing construction, it was hard to turn people away.”

“That’s because we were acquired into an already successful business,” his son added.

Springs Motel’s online presence is testament to its popularity. The company has hundreds of positive reviews from guests, many of whom praise the motel’s warm atmosphere, cleanliness, and affordability — qualities the Knickerbockers plan to adopt and maintain in the future.
Preserving the motel’s classic aesthetic and retro charm is a priority for the father-son team.

“There are some really eclectic relics that will stick around,” Tom Knickerbocker said with a laugh. “Take the toilet. The oddly chosen tiles of all different colors – greens, blues, pinks, yellows – are combinations that I think never really went together, even back then.

“We keep this stuff just for nostalgia,” he said.

The Knickerbockers said the previous owners told them they wouldn’t have to change much to do business. Krehbiel Johnston said she has many repeat customers – vacationers from the village who return to the motel year after year – who love the motel “as it is”.

“But we still wanted the rooms to be a little nicer,” said Tom Knickerbocker.

While his father oversees much of the motel’s infrastructural renovations, Austin Knickerbocker has focused on bolstering the motel’s digital marketing strategies.

“The day we closed the motel, I put our [room] listings on Airbnb,” Austin Knickerbocker said. “Immediately we started getting attention and traffic.”

The Knickerbockers said they have long relied on Airbnb’s services.

In addition to the 12 rooms at the Springs Motel, the Knickerbockers’ Airbnb page lists a residential property in Xenia and a 50-foot sailboat moored in Ft. Myers, Florida. The family also owns a number of other properties in the area – mainly in Fairborn, Xenia, Springfield and Dayton – which are used as long-term rentals. They have a long term rental in Yellow Springs on Davis Street.

“We have dozens of single-family homes, so we really know that business model,” Tom Knickerbocker said. “But for short-term rentals, it’s quite another thing. The return on investment is much better.

Both father and son agreed that using their familiarity with the Airbnb platform was the best approach to bringing business to the motel. They said its benefits were multiple: there’s the streamlined communication between them and their guests, the intuitive interface that allows for easy booking and, most important to them, the accountability factor.

“I think there’s a desire and a need for both parties to try to please the other party,” Tom Knickerbocker said. “The reviews of the customer and the place motivate everyone to do well with each other.”

“We really enjoy the Airbnb game,” added his son.

Although the Knickerbockers currently rely on the Airbnb platform to list their rooms, they said they hope to launch a more personalized website soon for guests to book their stays at the Springs Motel.

Both Tom and Austin Knickerbocker said they were excited to integrate themselves and their motel into the cultural fabric of Yellow Springs. Having seen the growing tourism in Yellow Springs, the Knickerbockers said they look forward to working alongside all the other accommodations in town to welcome visitors to the village.

“There’s almost too much demand in Yellow Springs for us to compete with other places to stay,” Austin Knickerbocker said.

They also said they hope their approach to running the Springs Motel and building local connections with nearby businesses will provide a much-needed economic boost to the south of the village.

“Essentially what we’re hoping to do is reinvigorate the south side of town,” Austin Knickerbocker said. “With Calypso Grill and the Yellow Springs Brewery Barrel Room, we want to develop this corridor as a hub for current and future businesses.”

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