The Stephanie Inn, which just won a Readers' Choice Award as the nation's third-best hotel from prestigious Conde Nast Traveler magazine, is making Cannon Beach proud.

But it wasn't always that way.

Manager Sharon Major says that when the inn first opened, many looked upon the Martin Hospitality-owned establishment as snobbish, due to its stringent rules of no children or pets. In fact, she says, they were looking to fill a high-end niche, a long-shot move that by all accounts appears to have been successful.

Major is happy to insist that they truly aren't snobs after all. But based on the awards that keep rolling in, they'd have every right to be.

In addition to the inn's ranking on the Conde Nast list (where it was topped only by The Peninsula in Chicago and Florida's Elizabeth Pointe Lodge), Major herself won the 2008 Innkeeper of the Year award from the Oregon Lodging Association, and the Stephanie Inn Restaurant has also been showered with kudos.

What makes an inn so award-worthy?

"I believe it's our service level and professionalism," Major explained. "We sincerely care about people and their experience and it shows. In addition, we really build relationships. Many of the people who visit are return guests."

The inn has had its share of celebrity guests, including Britney Spears and various sports stars. Oscar-nominated actress Melanie Griffith wanted to visit, but was turned away because she is a smoker.

Major stresses that they leave the stars alone. "We are laid back, leave them alone and allow them to be private," she said. An attitude of discretion has served the hotel well.

The dining room has also hosted its share of talented and award-winning chefs. "The Stephanie Inn Cookbook," by Chef John Newman (who now owns Newmans at 988) and Lori McKean, is sold at the inn and through online bookstores. "We do try to hire the best of the best," Major said. "We allow creativity and they even have the ability to select the menu. In that way, we allow them to really 'wow' the guests."

Although Major had an accounting background when she first moved to Cannon Beach, she worked as head housekeeper for the Surfsand, then as a night manager at the Viking Hotel before accepting the manager job at the Stephanie Inn. Her background helps her both understand and address division of the ranks in job positions at the hotel. Her secrets to keeping employees happy include making sure they have the needed tools to do their job, open communication, availability, accountability. Yet another key, she added, is finding people who really want to work in hospitality. "We do have a Christmas party for the staff, and an end-of-summer party," she said. "We make it as fun here as possible because I do want them to be happy. We spend three-quarters of our lives at a job. If you don't like your job, you need to change it."

Major has seen several people move onto other job positions both in and outside of Martin Hospitality and promote upwards. She finds it rewarding to be a part of that growth. They come back to thank her and she thanks them as well, because she learns from each person she connects with.

The economy is starting to affect the Stephanie Inn. "We are beginning to feel the pinch of people cutting back," Major admitted. "But... when the going gets tough, the tough get going... It's important to keep providing a quality experience - and we are."

The inn will be closed for renovations during January and February. Employees will be compensated during that time with a percent of their wage, as well as the opportunity to work on clean-up crews.

Spas and saunas will be added to some guest rooms, kitchens will be enlarged and improved, new windows installed and new furniture brought in. O'Brien Constructors will head the project and the original architect, Abbott Hays, will oversee the renovation.

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