Quebec motel owner turns into a Hollywood (Florida) legend Richard Clavet moved to the Sunshine State in the ’90s and has welcomed Canadians ever since Published On Wed Mar 24 2010
Richard Clavet stands outside of his motel in Hollywood, Fla., which has served snowbird Canadians well for more than 20 years.
Nancy Wigston/for the Toronto Star NANCY WIGSTON SPECIAL TO THE STAR HOLLYWOOD, FLA.—Quebec native Richard Clavet, go-to guy for all things Canadian, pulls up in his van and sweeps me away from the waterfront for an impromptu tour of the town he’s made his own. A miracle of promotion, the van boasts the names of Richard’s many places to stay — from motels to apartments, long stays to short. (Winter discount rates adorn the driver’s side door.) Two hours later, our tour is complete and we’re barrelling down the highway. Engrossed in Clavet’s stories about this Canadian niche on the Atlantic side of Florida, I’ve managed to miss my bus back to Lauderdale and Richard is making sure I meet up with my friends. Hollywood, with its famous “Broadwalk” and gloriously long beach, is a town perfectly suited to both winter escapees and hoteliers like Clavet. Ambitious and adventurous, in ’83 Clavet rode his 12-speed bike all the way from Quebec City to Mexico. His subsequent career — he arrived in Hollywood to visit family in ’85 — has seen the unilingual business grad perfect his English (and later his Spanish), save assiduously, and gamble that his down payment on a then-rundown motel in Hollywood’s French quarter would be accepted. When it was, no one was more shocked than Clavet — except his helpful stepfather, who called it “the worst investment” of his my life. Clavet smiles at the memory. First stop on our tour is that now-spiffy motel (Richard’s Motel Courtyard), one of a gaggle of Clavet-owned motel-studios and apartments. Loyal to his clientele, Clavet has become the man to contact in an emergency. A modest sort — “I am not special, except in this community” — his outstanding generosity to travellers in need is a local legend. “They call me, and I’m happy to help.” It’s no surprise the French like it here so much: Hollywood has always boasted a continental flair. Founded by Joseph Young in 1921, the town (so named because Young hoped to attract movie industry types) is pedestrian-friendly, with wide, landscaped boulevards and European-style roundabouts. Lowrise Hollywood Boulevard attracts a young-to-middle-aged crowd who patron a plethora of affordable eateries. A Breton crêperie stands a few doors from a Russian pâtisserie, where the lady from Kiev dishes out cappuccinos and slices of apricot coffee cake, a cup of ice on the side: very Florida-to-go. The beach still stars as the town’s main attraction: blinding white sands with the Blue Wave signage awarded by America’s Clean Beaches Council. No roads, no cars, no buildings obscure the shimmering Atlantic. The newly renovated seaside Broadwalk (four kilometres long, eight metres wide) attracts joggers, rollerbladers and walkers. Small wonder Miamians once voted Hollywood “the best place to take out-of-towners.” Arts Park, opened in 2007, is a facility on four green hectares with a children’s play area and interactive fountain. Glass-blowers and other artists can be seen at work while buskers entertain in the park. With its raft of affordable, clean, kitchenette-equipped motels, Hollywood is perfect for families and snowbirds alike. Although sophisticated, it’s homey, too. Frenchie’s Bar & Grill attracts wintering Canucks; the Dairy Belle offers northern treats (hamburger steak, soft ice cream). “My childhood,” says Clavet. Nearby Marches aux Puce (flea markets) offer chances to bargain; Le Clinic Soleil hires French-speaking doctors; service at Canadian banks is bilingual. Le Soleil de la Floride, a 30-year-old newspaper, publishes weekly editions in winter, and is run by realtor Yves Beauchamp — “Le Boss” reads the sign above his desk — who organizes events at Canada Fest, a yearly beach celebration that introduces Quebec entertainers, food and fun to Americans. Fest president this year is Louis S. St. Laurent, grandson of the late Prime Minister. Deco Drive, a vast Harrison St. dinner club, occupies a restored 1926 building; fans come from as far away as Sweden or as close as Miami. There’s live jazz at Ellington’s Grill & Cabaret and at O’Hara’s Jazz and Blues Café. Mikhail Baryshnikov once danced under the stars for 30,000 admirers at the Ocean Dance Festival; Hollywood’s Fiesta Tropicale (South Florida’s Mardi Gras), features a parade, food, New Orleans jazz and Zydeco bands. At Seminole Tribal Headquarters, there’s a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and battle re-enactments. (Hint: The Seminoles never surrendered.) At the other end of Hollywood Beach, the Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa — once popular with real royalty (Iran’s Shah) and the entertaining kind (Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe) — rose from its own ashes nine years ago to the tune of $600 million. The spectacular 1,000-room facility was bankrolled by the Union of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Sprinklers, purchasers of the original Diplomat via its pension fund in the late 1970s. The Diplomat caters to those who prefer something more deluxe than self-catering places with signs that read, “We Welcome Canadians”. Quebec TV channels are on tap and it’s a 50-cent flat rate for calls home. The demise of the Quebec presence in Hollywood — the thinking being the next generation would not follow their parents here — has been exaggerated. Folks come “from Rivière-du-Loup, Rimouski, Chicoutimi,” says Clavet. Why? It’s obvious. “Hollywood is safe, healthy and secure.” (And warm.) The ebullient Clavet belongs to the Optimist Club, a charity that helps local youth. “Last May 22 we gave away 50 bikes. My first bike,” he smiles, “was a gift from my uncle.” He’s just continuing the trend. Nancy Wigston is a Toronto-based freelance travel writer whose trip was hosted by Visit Florida.
Richard Clavet's van boasts the names of the many places to stay in his Hollywood empire. From motels to apartments, long stays to short, he's been catering to visitors since the 1990s.
Copyrights (c) 2008-2012 Richard's Motel. All Rights Reserved.