Owners of historic Carthage motel hanging up their Boots

New neon lights paint Carthage's historic Boots Motel in lime green against a storm-darkened sky on a Saturday night in this file photo taken several years ago during the restoration of the Route 66 fixture. GLOBE | FILE

CARTHAGE, Mo. — A Carthage landmark on Route 66 seeks a new innkeeper. Apply inside.

The owners, sisters Debye Harvey and Priscilla Bledsaw, have put the Boots Motel up for sale. They have worked since they bought the property in 2011 to put it back to its 1940s style and don't look forward to parting with their historic motor court. But they have reached the end of the road on their labor of love.

"I know the timing makes it look like it's because of the coronavirus, but my sister and I are getting up in age," Harvey said. "We polled our children and nobody wants it. You feel like at this age you should get your estate in order."

They had been discussing what to do for a couple of years. This year they planned to restore another room to give them eight rooms to rent out that would meet demand before giving up on their dream to fully restore the motel.

In the last nine years, they have recorded 4,800 room rentals to the many International travelers who are drawn to the U.S. to tour Route 66 and nostalgic retirees chasing memories down the historic Mother Road.

Then the COVID-19 virus hit, and week after week brought cancellations of the reservations that had been made for this year's tourist season. About a third of the business they expected evaporated.

That's when the sisters decided this is the time to try to sell the motor court. "The coronavirus isn't the reason, but it was the trigger," Harvey said.

They are asking $210,000 for the place, which is located at the crossroads of what formerly were Route 66 and Highway 71.

It was built by Arthur Boots, a Kansas City farm machinery salesman, in 1939. He designed the building, which is described as a Streamlined Modern style with bullnose, or rounded, corners and a smooth stucco exterior set off by black glass accents. It is topped by a flat roof with a parapet on three sides.

And the sisters, through a historic preservation grant, were able to restore the original neon lighting in 2016. It lights up Harvey's heart to turn on that lighting and see it glow at night.

Rod Harsh, director of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, said he connected the two sisters to the place just in time.

"They were looking for a motel to purchase, and I told them about Boots Court, and we met and they had a chance to look at it," Harsh said. "Debye Harvey is a preservation expert. She saw beyond the state it was in."

"It was coming very close to being torn down" when Harvey and Bledsaw decided to make the place their project.

Harsh said he has done the restoration work as an independent contractor.

"It's sad the sisters have to give it up. But what's happening now (with them) is happening all across the route. People who own motels on Route 66 are getting up in years" and have seen this season lost to the virus impact. "This has just been a horrible situation," Harsh said.

A sale of the motel will not send the sisters moving away.

"We don't have any plans to leave Carthage. We just need to free up us old people for some other things we want to do," Harvey said.

"We've had a wonderful time," she said. "The people we have met are wonderful people. All in all, we've have the kind of fun we wanted when we started. We like to talk to the people on Route 66 and offer people an old Route 66 experience, and most of our guests seemed to appreciate that. We rarely get complaints."

They expect business to return as soon as it is safe for people to travel and International travelers can once again come into the U.S.

"A lot of people have said, 'We are going to have to cancel this year, but we will see you next year,'" Harvey said.

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