There are new owners of the Boothbay Harbor bed and breakfast which boasts of possessing the “Oceanfront Hot Tub.” A Serbian couple bought The Harborage Inn Feb. 28, after working for five years in the U.S. hospitality industry. Alex and Maria Nikolic began as housekeepers in a York inn, and eventually worked their way up to front desk and site managers. They did this in hopes of working hard and saving money toward achieving their own “American Dream.”
“We wanted to live in America, and I thought why not buy a place where we can live and work,” Alex said. “So we started looking for places, and even though this was a little out of our price range, it was so impressive we bought it.” A major selling point of the 12-room inn at 75 Townsend Ave. was the amazing view. The couple also spent time around town and attended Gardens Aglow which helped them decide to make Boothbay Harbor their home. About a week after buying the inn, the couple started hearing news reports about the coronavirus. indicating it wouldn’t likely impact the U.S., but a few weeks later the Nikolics were immersed in their first crisis.“The phone started ringing with cancellations, and we knew at that point, how serious the coronavirus was,” Alex said. “Even though business is picking up, it’s still down 80% from March 1.”
The business qualified for a Small Business Administration loan, but they didn’t qualify for other federal programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. The inn is now open for Maine residents and is starting to take reservations for the rest of the year. So the Nikolics, who just a few years ago were studying economics in a western Serbia university, are now starting slowly to begin their careers as innkeepers.
Alex is 29 and Maria is 28. They met in 2008 as high school students in their hometown of Uzice, Serbia. They dated for seven years before marrying. They are both college graduates having received economic degrees. Upon graduation, the couple had a choice of seeking work at a Serbian corporation or in America. They decided to visit the U.S. through a Diversity Visa program. Alex applied for the lottery program along with 19 million others. “They only select 50,000. I heard it’s a random selection, but I think there is a little more to it. There is an interview, and you must also be a good citizen to qualify.”
The program allows an immigrant to spend four months in the U.S., three working and the fourth traveling. The winner is allowed to bring a relative along on the Visa. The Nikolics found work in a place they’ve never heard of: Maine. They worked three months at a York Beach inn as housekeepers. They spent the fourth month seeing places they only knew from American movies. The couple travelled to Boston and drove to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They flew to Miami, and ended their American tour in New York City. “I didn’t think it would be like the movies, but it was pretty close,” said Maria. “I was disappointed in Hollywood, but I was really impressed with Las Vegas.”
The couple has spent five years in America and is allowed to apply for citizenship. They enjoy living in America in a place like Serbia which has all four seasons. They said Maine is about 10 degrees on average cooler than Serbia, and Serbia’s climate is more like New York City’s. As far as other differences, the couple described America and Serbia as being two different places. “Almost in every way it’s different. Americans have so many more economic opportunities,” Maria said. “Our friends in Serbia and all over eastern Europe talk about coming to America, and hopefully, we’ll become citizens someday.”