Gary MacDonald was born in 1951, the same year his family purchased a small fishing resort at the south end of Lake Pend Oreille. The past six decades have seen much change on North Idaho’s largest lake, but the resort has kept pace with the times and occasionally even led the way.
Next weekend, MacDonald’s Hudson Bay Resort at Bayview, Idaho, will celebrate 60 years of serving customers. MacDonald, president of the family business, took a moment to reflect on his nonstop quest to help others relax.
S-R: What was the resort like when your family bought it?
MacDonald: There was just one dock and a few cabins. Now we have 10 cabins, about 240 boat slips, 20 float house bases, 20 mobile home sites, the store, gas docks, mechanics. There isn’t too much we don’t do today.
S-R: How many relatives work at the resort?
MacDonald: Really only four. The new generation is zero at the moment, but we have high hopes.
S-R: When did you start working here?
MacDonald: When I was in junior high, and on through college. I’d originally planned to go to law school, but we had a lot of customers who were lawyers, and I noticed they weren’t having any more fun than I was. So after four years of college, I decided I’d join the family business and started working here full time in 1973.
S-R: How has lake culture evolved since you were a teenager?
MacDonald: In the old days, most people came to Pend Oreille to fish. And some people still do come here to fish. But when I was 20, I starting selling sailboats. At that time there were only a couple of sailboats on the south end of Pend Oreille – mine and another guy’s. Over the years, Pend Oreille has really usurped Coeur d’Alene’s position as the sailing lake. Now we have powerboat customers, sailboat customers and lots of small-boat customers in between. A much wider variety of people use the lake now.
S-R: What does it take to succeed in the resort business today?
MacDonald: We try very hard to make sure when people come to the lake they have a minimum amount of hassle, so they look forward to coming back. We have a lot of repeat customers.
S-R: How would you describe your typical guest?
MacDonald: Age-wise, between 30 and 70. Some are still working, some are retired – a really broad spectrum of people. They come from as far away as Edmonton, Alberta, and we have people from Colorado, California, Oregon. But the metropolitan core around Spokane is where most come from.
S-R: Has the recession affected your business?
MacDonald: Not very much. What really affected us this year was the lousy weather in the spring. But we are really, really full. We have a very stable customer base.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
MacDonald: I enjoy serving people, and that’s the truth. If they have a need, I try to fill it, and anticipate things they might like. Not every day is perfect, but I really try to make sure guests know I appreciate them as people and as customers.
S-R: Any parts of your job you dread?
MacDonald: The worst moment this year was when the sewer backed up on Fourth of July weekend. But we got that fixed. So, no, I don’t dread anything.
S-R: How busy are you this time of year?
MacDonald: Swamped. The downside of that is that we have a lot of people depending on us to have fun in the summertime, and when we can’t work on their boat as quickly as they’d like, that’s discouraging to them and to us. But we do our best.
S-R: When do things quiet down?
MacDonald: After Labor Day. By mid-November, only the really hardcore fishermen are out. Winter is very quiet, and then by March people get going again. But we live here, so we have boats in the water all year round.
S-R: How do you relax?
MacDonald: I don’t much relax in the summertime. In the winter, I take a couple of road trips.
S-R: How often do you hear, “I’d love to have your job”?
MacDonald: Not very often. Not my job. I really do like to work, but I work a lot. It’s not ditch-digging work, so it’s not all unpleasant. But it’s a lot of hours. Typically I start by 5:30 in the morning, and if I go to town to run errands I don’t get home till midnight. Last night I got home at 1 in the morning and was back up at 5:30. By the time September comes I’m ready to not work so many hours. People who say they’d like to have a resort typically think it’s easier than it is.
S-R: What was one of your best business ideas?
MacDonald: The best thing was when I bought a used crane 20 years ago. We’ve used that crane so much, I wonder how we ever did without it.
S-R: How about one of your worst ideas?
MacDonald: I bought some cheap pedal boats that are a total pain to keep clean. As a result they just lean up against the dock and don’t get used.
S-R: Who’s invited to next weekend’s 60th anniversary celebration?
MacDonald: Everyone who’s had any contact with us, either as an employee, a customer or a supplier. One of my sons is in a rock band, so we’ll have music on the night of the 20th. And then on the 21st, we’ll have music and food.
S-R: I couldn’t find Hudson Bay on a map of Pend Oreille. Where is it?
MacDonald: The name of the resort came from a guy named Hudson back in the ‘30s, and when we bought it it was called Hudson Bay Resort even though there is no Hudson Bay, only a Mr. Hudson.
We’re on what years ago was called Squaw Bay and now is called Scenic Bay. We’ve kept the Hudson Bay name over the years for nostalgic reasons, but we’re gradually dropping it and going with just MacDonald’s Resort.