By Taylor Nichols
If you find yourself in the presence of Smuggler’s Inn Bed and Breakfast owner Bob Boule and have a moment to spare, chances are he’ll have a story to tell you.
Perhaps he’ll tell you about the time he took his mother Sylvia Baker to the horse races in Cloverdale and the announcer told the whole crowd it was her 80th birthday. Mortified that so many people knew her age, she was placed in a chariot that circled the track.
If not that rousing tale, maybe he’ll tell you about the time he worked on Jay Inslee’s election campaign for eighth grade class president at Cascade Middle School in Seattle.
All of these stories are featured in photos, newspaper clippings and plaques that adorn the walls of Boule’s home and business, which sits at the edge of the U.S. border in Blaine: The Smuggler’s Inn.
Boule bought the four-story Victorian home back in 2000, and turned it into a bed and breakfast three years later. It’s filled with paintings of the house done by community members for art contests Boule has held in the past. A watercolor with vibrant deep blues, a painting of Boule’s old yellow 1976 Corvette in the driveway – each of those has a story, too.
Boule enjoys giving back to his community in any way he can and said it encourages others to volunteer too.
“Getting people involved in their community just makes it a better community,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
From donating a one-night stay at the inn for a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County to his decades of work with the Rotary Club, Boule has put nearly two decades into building up Blaine since he moved to the area in 2000.
In June, Boule received a Blaine Builder Award from the city in honor of his service to the community and work on the Blaine Tourism Advisory Committee, Drayton Harbor Music Festival and Blaine Chamber of Commerce.
“I look at life differently now than I did 50 years ago or even 20 years ago,” he said. “What you leave the people that are here is ultimately your legacy.”
Boule stepped up last March, after his neighbors Jason Surowiecki, Hope Woolf and their four kids lost their home in a fire. He offered them a suite at the inn while they looked for permanent housing. He also held a community garage sale at the inn to raise money for the family.
Surowiecki grew up in the house that Boule would later transform into a bed and breakfast and has known him for 18 years. He’s worked for him doing odd jobs since Boule bought the house. Surowiecki said Boule’s generosity is a defining characteristic of who he i
s. “He’s always been there to help me, especially during the tough times,” Surowiecki said. “He’s just an all-around nice person.”
Boule bought the home 18 years ago with the intention of fixing it up and reselling it. His friend John Henifin’s then six-year-old son Justin told Boule he should turn the old house into an inn.
“He told all his friends that he was going to the Smuggler’s Inn, getting it ready to be a bed and breakfast,” Boule said. “And after a while, it began to make more financial sense.”
Although Boule said he has no idea how Justin came up with the name, it stuck.
The Smuggler’s Inn is eclectic and homey. The Joseph P. Kennedy room, named after President Kennedy’s father and rumored bootlegger, is full of black and white photos of Boule’s family dating back to the mid 1800s. The home is a mix of antiques, paintings, old photos and animal-themed decor. Throw pillows and a sign reading “please don’t let the dog out […] no matter what it tells you,” feature canines that look like Boule’s two yellow labs, Lola and Yukon.
A number of articles have been written over the years about the inn, and most include something about its namesake: the smugglers themselves. Boule keeps night vision goggles on hand for curious guests interested in keeping an eye on the border. People usually do see some late-night activity, but chances are the figures are border patrol agents, Boule said.
Boule was born in Bremerton, Washington. At age 12, his family moved to Seattle, where his father worked as an architect and designer for the Navy.
In high school, Boule learned basic business skills while working at Seattle department store Frederick & Nelson. He went on to attend Central Washington University to study psychology. He then took a job with St. Louis-based Chromalloy Photographic Industries, a traveling photography company, because he wanted to travel. He spent the next year and three months driving all over the country following traveling photo studios and selling the developed portraits to families in Sears and Montgomery Ward department stores.
“[I ended] up in Vegas or Los Angeles, or Iowa in the middle of winter. It was fantastic,” Boule said. “I got to see everything I wanted to.”
With more than a year of state-to-state travel under his belt, Boule decided it was time to come home. He got a job as a salesman for Pacific Fruit and Produce in Burlington, and worked in produce sales for the next 27 years with a number of different companies.
Selling Washington apples, pears and cherries took Boule all over the world. He sold produce to buyers from Malaysia to Mexico. In many places, his clients offered him a room in their house.
“We could stay in any hotel we wanted, but if you were invited to their home, that was something that was really special,” he said. “Now, the world comes to me.”
Boule still remembers that hospitality and echoes it in the atmosphere at the Smuggler’s Inn. He said he wants his guests to feel like they’re coming home.
Boule took a job working for the Bellingham and Wenatchee Business Journals in 2000, and bought his home in Blaine later that year. He said he preferred the freeway drive from Bellingham to Blaine rather than driving through traffic in town after work.
After nearly two decades in Blaine, Boule he said what he loves most about it is the people.
“Every different group is making Blaine a better place to live. It doesn’t matter what country they come from or what their backgrounds are, it’s how they try to make it a better place to live,” he said. “You don’t realize how special this community is, until somebody’s home burns, or someone is sick or people need that little extra help.”
The Smuggler’s Inn has been featured on news stations, television shows and newspapers across the country, and has even received international attention. It may be the inn that is putting Blaine on the map, attracting guests from around the world, but it’s Boule’s good hospitality that keeps people coming back.