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If it's a motel, chances are its a Patel's

September 25, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

After Bharat Patel came to the United States in 1984, he toiled for 12 years as a dishwasher, a maintenance worker and a researcher at a solar panel firm.

All the while Patel was saving money, building a nest egg that he would eventually invest in 1996, with family and friends, into two motels in State Line, Pa., where he has prospered.

"It's a very good business if you know how to run it," said Patel, 38.

During the last few decades, more and more motels and hotels in the United States have become owned by people of Indian descent, such as Patel. Approximately 47 percent of all motels and hotels in the United States are owned by Americans of Indian descent, according to the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association in Atlanta.

More than 50 percent of limited service motels in the nation are owned by Asian-Americans, according to local Asian American motel owners.

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Like many other Asian-Americans who have bought motels in the United States, Patel got into the business because he had friends who liked the business and passed on the word.

"If it's easy to manage you tend to tell everybody else - family members and friends - so more go in motel business," said Patel, who co-owns the Econo Lodge and the State Line Motel in State Line, Pa., as well as two motels in Virginia Beach, Va. He anticipates buying a third motel in Virginia this fall.

Many of the Asian-Americans who own motels or hotels in the nation, and increasingly in the Tri-State area, have the surname Patel, a common Indian name and a Hindu subcaste.

"Motel Patel goes together now," said Dinesh Patel, 42.

Dinesh Patel co-owns the Days Inn on Dual Highway and the Williamsport Days Inn - which will become a Red Roof Inn later this fall - with his brother, Bakul Patel, and other friends and family members.

Dinesh, Bakul, Bharat and Sam Patel, who owns the Comfort Suites on Dual Highway and the Scottish Inn in Martinsburg, W.Va., are all from the Indian state Gujarat, north of Bombay. There are at least two more Patels in the Tri-State area in the motel business - both in Chambersburg, Pa. They either would not comment or couldn't be reached.

While nationwide some Asian-American motel owners have seen competitors put up signs saying they are American-owned, the Patels said they have not seen that happen in this area.

Bakul Patel, 32, who lives in Hagerstown, said he decided to invest in a local motel because of Interstates 81 and 70. It is a growing area attracting more businesses and tourism, he said.

The Patels like the motel business because it enables them to be their own boss, said Dinesh Patel.

"Everyone started a small one first," he said.

Patels also are hard workers, they said. The name Patel stands for farmer, Bharat Patel said.

"We're working seven days a week," said Sam Patel, 38, who is from a town near Surat, India.

Everybody works at the motels, including wives and sometimes the children, Dinesh Patel said.

While some people may view the motels as competitors, the Patels treat each other like family and would even loan each other money.

Sam Patel started out in the motel business in 1982 when he didn't have a "single dollar." He borrowed the money needed to buy the 11-room Pikeside Motel in Martinsburg from friends.

The money he earned from that venture he invested in buying the Scottish Inn in 1989. Now he plans to build another motel in Hagerstown and one in Frederick, Md.

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