The long, welcoming career of Gloucester innkeeper Brad Pierce ’72
STORY BY CYNTHIA HENDRICKSON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JASON GROW
NORWICH RECORD | Summer 2022
You can’t get any closer to the ocean than here.
The Cape Ann Motor Inn has a Gloucester, Mass., address. Yet it sits perfectly on Long Beach, a breathtaking mile-long expanse of white sandy seashore stretching from Gloucester to Rockport. This is the Bay State’s other cape, Cape Ann. Not as famous as Cape Cod, but just as, if not more, sublime. As the North Shore real estate mavens say, “Location, location, location.” What could be better than waking up to the susurration of ocean waves and watching the sun rise over the cerulean Atlantic? Perhaps sharing it with loved ones—year after year. For generations. And having this family-run business take care of you. For 47 years … and counting.
Brad Pierce ’72 has served as the welcoming proprietor of the Cape Ann Motor Inn since 1973. Doesn’t seem possible, given his youthful appearance, sharp wit, and easygoing personality. “I lost my class ring in the ocean here and six years later, at the age of 23, I was the innkeeper.”
Pierce always knew he wanted to be in the hospitality business. He entered Norwich during the Vietnam era, but due to his allergies, which eventually turned into asthma, he couldn’t go into the service. Fresh off the Hill with a business degree, Pierce applied for positions at hotels north of Boston. His future business partner was building what would become the Cape Ann Motor Inn when he received Pierce’s application. But the Holiday Inn in Peabody got him first.
“I walked [in] … said my spiel, and the young lady at the front desk whispered to the innkeeper ‘Hire him! Hire him.’ He did, and I ended up marrying her.” Pierce laughs. (So does a parrot named Bert. Loudly. But we’ll get to her in a bit). “Three months later I was her boss, three months after that I was her boss’s boss. Within nine months, I was maître d’ in the lounge on weekends, assistant night auditor, and desk manager. All within nine months.”
Soon after, Pierce was approached by the owner of the Cape Ann Motor Inn. He told Pierce that his current innkeeper could no longer fulfill his obligations. Seems like he had robbed a bank and was in jail. Pierce was satisfied working at the Holiday Inn. But his future business partner enticed him by offering $100 more a week, a company car, and a penthouse. Pierce talked it over with his fiancée. It was enough of a promotion that the two could get married. Offer accepted.
The Cape Ann Motor Inn has 31 rooms along with a honeymoon suite. All rooms face the ocean with views of Thacher Island and its spectacular twin lighthouses less than two miles away. In the evening, blue balcony lights illuminate the beach and ocean, creating a stunning ambiance.
When he first started at the Cape Ann Motor Inn, Pierce used to empty the rubbish, fill the soda machine, handle the payroll and bookkeeping, fold towels, and do pretty much everything. Eventually he hired someone to assist him; chambermaids followed, and now he has a staff of 18 people. When she was young, Pierce brought his daughter, Loran Caputo, into the business. She now serves as his assistant innkeeper. “Loran,” Brad remarks proudly, “brought me into the 21st century—with [Facebook], Expedia, social media, Trip-advisor, and all of that. We even have a beach cam to see what the ocean looks like, for surfers—[it’s a] huge surfing beach. I’m still here every day checking things out, paying some bills, looking at scheduling and making some observations. Still putting in 30 hours a week.” You can’t beat the view from Pierce’s place.
“I could write a book about the guests— including celebrities—that have stayed here,” Pierce chuckles. Bert laughs.
Once, Pierce heard a voice asking if they had any vacancies. He looked up to see the lanky actor Sam Elliott and his signature walrus mustache staring down at him. The inn was full, but Brad got Elliot a room somewhere else. They were also sold out when Paul Newman called and needed a room. Pierce’s desk clerk asked why Pierce wasn’t finding a room for Paul Newman. Pierce didn’t know it was him!
Ben Vereen—the Tony Award–winning actor, dancer, and singer—dated a woman from Cape Ann, so he stayed a lot. Once there was a lobby full of people and, as Vereen was leaving, he shouted out, “Yo, Brad, you’re the reason I learned how to dance!” Pierce bellowed back, “You owe me for that.” The lobby guests were astounded.
Chita Rivera—another Broadway star, who played Anita in West Side Story—made Brad carry her luggage all the way to the third floor.
Singer Brian Hyland, who sold a million records with the 1960 hit “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” was also a guest.
Many of the Stanley Cup–winning Boston Bruins frequented the inn. When Pierce’s daughter was in first grade, Bobby Orr signed an autograph for her. Loran brought it to school for show-and-tell and sold it for a dollar. A childhood autograph Brad had saved from Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski met the same fate, selling at show-and-tell for another buck.
* * *
Time to introduce Bert. Bert is an African gray parrot that was a “gift” from Pierce’s partner, who named the bird after his boat, the Bertram. Pierce thought Bert was male until 12 years after the parrot took up residence at the inn, when they found an egg in his cage. Turns out he’s a she. So her name was changed to Roberta.
If you ask, “How you doing?” Bert will reply, “How you doing?” Sometimes when Pierce gets a coffee, she’ll tell him to “Get back to work.” If you’re a smoker, and you breathe on her, she’ll start making loud coughing/choking noises.
Not surprisingly, Bert gets her share of Christmas cards.
Encounters with the occasional expired whale washed ashore or unwelcome guests like a shark are to be expected. But a torpedo?
“One washed up here,” Pierce recalls. “We had to have the neighborhood evacuated and the entire area roped off. Specialists arrived, and one of these ‘experts’ went over to it, kicked it, turned back around, and hollered, ‘It’s OK.’ Thank goodness they left it to the professionals.”
Another time, a family of six showed up in a 16-foot Boston Whaler. “We found them sleeping under a tarp,” Pierce says. “The parents were so proud. Said they sold everything they had and bought this Whaler with plans to travel from Maine to Fort Lauderdale through New England water¬ways. We tried to convince them that they wouldn’t make it. We took the four little kids every morning inside the inn for hot chocolate, cookies, let them watch TV. We called the Coast Guard to investigate. They inspected the boat—the Whaler had running lights, life preservers, etc. It was a legal vessel. Nothing these Coast Guard guys could do except inform their stations all along the coast that the group was coming. I said, ‘This just isn’t right.’ Then I called the Gloucester Times and told them the story. A reporter and photographer showed up and took pictures. They had a picture of me looking out from the balcony with the title, ‘Innkeeper Says They’re All Going to Die.’”
The boat had needed minor repairs, and when those were completed, the family tried to depart. At the outset, they ran into some waves and couldn’t move. Pierce rolled up his pants and threw the boat a rope to get back in. The first wave got Pierce up to his chin, but he managed to pull the family safely into shore and finally convince them to get bus passes and go back to Maine.
It’s rarely a good idea to overindulge, especially when traveling. Pierce recalls the time a guest on the third floor had too much to drink. She called the front desk to say that the Germans were in one of the rooms. “They know I’m here, and they know I know them,” she told Pierce, insisting he come up to her room. Pierce went upstairs and pointed out that the room she was referring to was Henry’s room. Henry was one of the winter residents, who would sometimes stay at the inn during the off season. Standing outside Henry’s room, the female guest told Pierce, “I know they’re in there.” Pierce knocked on the door. “You have to picture this,” he laughs, recalling the story. “Henry comes to the door, his hair is all over the place, he is half asleep, he’s tying up his bathrobe. He says, ‘What?’ I turned to the woman and said, ‘See? It’s Henry.’ With a straight face, Henry looks at me and says, ‘Brad, you can check in as many nuts as you want into this motel but don’t feel obligated to bring them all up and introduce them to me.’ He slammed the door in my face.”
An electric trolley was built in the late 1800s to bring visitors from Gloucester to Long Beach. A pavilion was erected on Long Beach in 1895. Inside was a restaurant, dance hall, bowling alley, and a vaudeville theater. It burned down twice—once in 1909 and again in 1965.
In the lobby of the inn, Pierce keeps a postcard of the pavilion. He laughs when he shares this story: “When the pavilion burned down in 1965, and the Rockport fire chief (it was his favorite place) arrived at the scene, one of the firefighters had to point something out to him. ‘Chief, I realize that you were in a hurry to get here, but you never put your pants on.’ He had boots, a jacket, and a helmet—but he forgot to put his pants on.” Brad laughs again, but not Bert. Napping, perhaps?
Times change, as does entertainment.
Once, Pierce learned that people were driving into town and asking directions to the inn only to be sent to the wrong place. He decided to create some publicity for the inn. “I started hosting bikini contests,” Pierce explains. “My judges were the Gloucester mayor, Rockport town selectmen, and the Gloucester city clerk. Oh, and Mike Costello, who was head of the Cape Ann Chamber at that time. One crowd was close to 6,000 people. We gave away 8,000 tubes of Sea & Ski suntan lotion that we got as a promotion. And 55 cases of Miller beer. It was broadcasted live on WMEX, a popular radio station at the time.”
For the sake of equal opportunity, there had to be a “Macho Man” contest, too. “It didn’t go as well,” Pierce recalls. “One male contestant dropped his bathing suit, and we had to escort him off the property. He didn’t win. Didn’t even get an honorable mention.”
Pierce has a deadpan sense of humor, if you haven’t noticed.
Service over self. Always.
Pierce has been a member of the Cape Ann Rotary Club for 43 years. The only member with perfect attendance, as a matter of fact. The Club’s motto is Service Over Self, a principle Pierce lives by. He has also served as the president of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and as a founding member of the North of Boston Tourism Council. But his real passion is helping others, a mission shared by his daughter. Loran is actively involved with Pathways for Children, a provider of education and childcare programs in Gloucester, serving on the board that organizes the nonprofit’s annual banquet, which has raised over $200,000. Pierce wouldn’t miss a Pathways holiday party. He takes photos of the children with Santa, gives each of them a photo within days, and there can be up to 300 kids!
For the past seven years, Pierce and his local Rotary Club, together with Rotaries from 46 other districts, have hosted a “Polar Plunge to Fight Polio” event on the last weekend of February. More than 400 people gather for the privilege of running into the frigid Atlantic at the same time. “The national anthem is played, then we all sing to the song ‘We are the World’,” Pierce says. “Either the Gloucester mayor or Sen. Bruce Tarr yells the ‘Go!’ and the plunge starts. Bill Gates matches everything we make. The 2021 swim … put us over the mil¬lion-dollar mark.”
Winters can be tough around here, and lots of people can end up in undesirable circumstances. The inn is open all winter for long-term rentals. “We rent rooms by the month in the winter. Someone needs a place to stay—wife throws him out, other issues. If the person staying here gets an invite back home after three nights, I give them their money back for the other 27 days. We always help people out. Our policy now is that if it is below freezing and someone calls to say a person is on the streets, we ask [that person] to send them over. It’s the right thing to do.” Pierce also contacts a local homeless shelter to let them know that there is room at the inn.
The Cape Ann Motor Inn is a warm, welcoming place. The moment one enters the lobby, feels the sea breeze, smells the coffee, and hears the person behind the front desk ask cheerily, “How can I help you?” even the most stressed-out person has to sigh and relax.
“Nice people have been coming here for many years,” Pierce says. “Before guests check out, they make a reservation for the following year. Same time, same week. Because they consider us family. We have 8,000 guests here a year. So, multiply by 46, 47 [years] … I’ve met a lot of nice people.”
Pierce smiles and reflects on where he is personally at this stage of his life. “I’m at a point where I walk down the beach and back once a year. The last couple of years I’ve strolled down the beach and people will say, ‘Oh my God, he’s still alive.’” He’s not that old! “Geez, you know Grammy used to work for him. They know me in the neighborhood.”
Everybody knows Pierce and Lindsay, his marvelous wife. Seems like Pierce was destined to run the Cape Ann Motor Inn. He always has a story to tell, an observation to share, and a hand to reach out to anyone in need.
A guest listened the entire time Pierce shared his anecdotes. When he was finished, she stood up and thanked Pierce for his storytelling. She started to walk away, then turned back with a smile.
“You really should write a book.”
Jack “Brad” Pierce ’72 will celebrate his 50th Class Reunion during Homecoming 2022. This story first appeared in The Other Cape.