And so it became Inn BoonsBoro, with $285-a-night rooms decorated by a local furniture company and named after romantic literary couples, including Nick and Nora from “The Thin Man” and Jane and Rochester from “Jane Eyre.” Roberts rehabbed the building twice — on her first try, it burned down.
The gym was a seedy tanning salon behind the inn. Janeen Solberg, the bookstore’s manager, remembers its genesis.
“This town could really use a gym,” Roberts told Solberg. “Where do people go to work out?”
Solberg told her that people had to drive to Hagerstown or Frederick.
“But that’s at least 20 miles away,” Roberts said.
Last year, she opened Fit in BoonsBoro, a high-end gym with 500 members. Manager Heidi Bodenheimer says Roberts kept the price down to about $30 a month so everyone in town could afford to work out there.
On the one-year anniversary, Roberts took every class.
“I don’t think you can beat the price anywhere,” says Laura Schnackenberg, who moved to Boonsboro 10 years ago and used to drive to Hagerstown to work out.
Schnackenberg has watched the town bloom with Roberts’s cash.
“When I first got here, the inn was crumbling, the downtown didn’t look good,” Schnackenberg says. “The whole place looks 10 times better now.”
Crediting the trilogy
In addition to her family’s businesses, Roberts spreads smaller amounts of money around town through her foundation, whose yearly tax filings contain dozens of pages of donations. Last year, she gave $8,000 to the Boonsboro High School band, $5,000 to the drama club and $50,000 for a Shakespeare festival nearby.
But Roberts’s most important gift to the town came when she published “The Next Always,” the first in her Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, which chronicles the rebirth of the inn. The trilogy was Roberts’s editor’s idea. Inside the cover flap of all three books is a map of downtown Boonsboro. The inn, the bookstore, her son’s restaurants, even Dick the Barber, who has been cutting hair next door to the bookstore for years, all turn up in its pages.
Boonsboro has always been a destination for Roberts’s fans. But the Boonsboro trilogy, according to business owners and town officials, has dramatically amped up the interest. The inn reports that bookings have quadrupled since the first book appeared, and businesses around town report frequent phone calls from as far away as England from people who say, “Oh, my God. You’re real!”
The day of the signing for Roberts’s latest release, “The Perfect Hope,” at Turn the Page, women began lining up for tickets before 9 a.m. even though the event didn’t start until noon. Local artists were busy painting images of Main Street to sell later at a party being held in a gift shop Roberts’s family owns.
Tom Mallion sat on a bench sipping coffee. His wife, Sara, was in line. They had driven up from North Carolina for their 10-year anniversary and were spending the night at the inn.
“My wife has all of her books,” he said. “She won’t even let me take them and sell them.”
Roberts sold more than 500 books that day, sitting alongside up-and-coming romance authors who had been invited to sell their work. She chatted with fans, asking whether they were from out of town and where they were staying. If they said the inn, she asked which room and then added, “Oh, I love that bed” or “Oh, I love that room.”
Norma Arnold had driven in from West Virginia with her friend Ravenna Redman. The two swap Roberts books. Before the signing, they stood in front of the store, bags full of books, looking around town — the inn, the pizza shop, the bakery, the painters painting.
“I know the places now,” Arnold said. “Look at the bakery, the inn — it’s all so beautiful. It brings more life to the books.”
And the books bring more life to the town.