Nicholas Devito and his fiancee were seeking the perfect seaside location for their upcoming wedding, and thought they had found it when they came across the Ocean View Inn in Gloucester, a family-owned bed-and-breakfast with an outdoor pool and breathtaking views of the Atlantic.
So the Tewksbury couple plopped down more than $10,000 in deposits for food, entertainment, and 30 room reservations for family members and guests, and started planning out the June reception. But a few weeks ago, they got a call from their justice of the peace, who said the inn was closing down and wouldn’t be doing any more weddings. They tried to contact the owner, but got nowhere.
“They just took our money and ran,” Devito said. “We don’t know what to do. There’s no one to contact and nobody is calling us back. Everyone just keeps telling us that it’s a civil matter and should be settled in small claims court.”
Now Devito, his fiancee, and a number of other couples are chasing after the longtime owner, Peter Bershad, who they said took tens of thousands of dollars in deposits for upcoming wedding receptions and has refused to refund the money.
The attorney general’s office is investigating at least 11 consumer complaints from couples who lost deposits for weddings at Ocean View, but it’s not clear whether the inquiry will lead to criminal charges against the owner. The state agency is attempting to mediate the complaints, spokeswoman Jillian Fennimore said, and wants other individuals affected by Ocean View’s abrupt closure to come forward.
Meanwhile, a settlement has been brokered that might see the inn’s reopening.
A lawyer representing Stoneham Bank, which holds the mortgage for the 9-acre property, confirmed that the inn has been sold to an undisclosed buyer “with significant resources” who is expected to take over the business. The lawyer, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said the sale is expected to close by the end of the month, but he wouldn’t disclose the price or other details. The property has been valued at about $4.7 million.
It also wasn’t immediately clear if the new owner plans to honor the wedding reservations made under Bershad’s ownership, or whether couples who were burned on their deposits would even be interested in coming back.
“I don’t think I could ever go back to that place, not now,” Devito said. “I just want my money back.”
Until recently, the property was headed for the auction block. A notice for the auction that was scheduled for Jan. 21 boasted that the property – including three separate buildings with a pool, 68 rooms, and 36,000 square feet of space – has “spectacular views” and “subdivision or development potential.”
Attempts to reach Bershad or members of his family were unsuccessful, and two phone numbers listed under his name have been disconnected.
Devito, 25, said he tried to track down the owners to get his money back but was told by the inn’s wedding coordinator that the paperwork, including receipts, had been confiscated by the bank and that she could not refund the deposit.
“She refused to give us our money back,” he said. “She kept trying to assure us that we were all set, that the new owners would honor our reservations.”
He said he contacted a lawyer who found out that the owner had more than $5 million in liens on the property and that Stoneham Bank was in the process of foreclosing on the mortgage.
Devito said he suspected “something wasn’t right” after the wedding coordinator starting pressuring them to book large blocks of rooms and other amenities.
“At first they were very personal and welcoming,” he said. “Then they started getting really pushy about reserving the rooms for our family and guests and other things. They were constantly asking us for more and more money.”
City records show that Bershad purchased the property on 171 Atlantic Road in 1994 from Bass Rocks Resorts Inc. for an undisclosed price, using a limited-liability corporation, 175 Bedford Holdings. Records also show Bershad still owes the city about $400 in delinquent real estate taxes dating back to 2012.
Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello said he has spoken with the Essex district attorney’s office after receiving complaints from affected couples. But at this point there are no criminal charges being pursued, he said.
“We’re being told that it’s a civil matter, involving bankruptcy,” Campanello said. “If that changes, however, we will certainly be investigating it further.”
Other wedding venues across the region have reached out to affected couples through social media – some even posting invitations on Ocean View’s Facebook page – to offer alternative locations along the coastline.
Cruiseport Gloucester , which operates a cruise boat and a harborside venue where it hosts wedding receptions and other events, has offered to give affected couples credit for deposits they placed on rooms at Ocean View. A Cruiseport spokeswoman said it has booked at least two of the couples.
“It’s horrible what happened. We’re part of the community and we’re just trying to do what we can to help these people,” said Bridget Jaramillo, director of events at Cruiseport. “It was really a shock to everyone that they just shut their doors.”