The Busy, Busy, B&B Business

But it opens doors to friendships from around the world

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

With guests checking out at 11 a.m. and in at 4 p.m., there's precious little time for the day's work: there's the laundry, changing the bed linen, vacuuming, and shopping for breakfast. And, yes, you'd better love to cook.

Time for a vacation? Or even an afternoon off? Forget it - or at least expect to plan a long time ahead.

Such is the routine of the bed-and-breakfast owner. It's not always the romantic, easy life dreamed of by overworked couples on a weekend getaway.

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Dropping out of the 9-to-5 routine and running a bed-and-breakfast definitely has its rewards, as long as you're not trading one set of work stress for another.

"You have to be here all of the time," says Dick Jungwirth, who owns two B&Bs in northwest Oregon.

"And it makes it a little difficult when people don't tell you when they're going to show up. Or when people don't show up when they tell you they will," Mr. Jungwirth says.

Yet the B&B industry continues to grow throughout the United States.

In 1980, there were approximately 1,000 B&Bs in the US serving 1 million guests a year, according to the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, (PAII), a trade organization that serves B&B and country inn owners. In 1995, that number had increased to more than 15,000 professionally run, licensed B&Bs and country inns, serving 37 million guests a year, according to the association. And that doesn't count the 10,000 hobby-style homestays.

It's a $4.1 billion industry, including rooms, restaurant meals, entertainment, shopping and incidentals. It's worth $1.6 million in rooms alone.

"People are becoming aware that these places actually exist," says Trish Ainsworth of the association. "They're tired of the sterile, cookie-cutter hotel room."

She says the beauty of the B&B is that every room is different, as is the way guests are treated compared with that of a chain hotel or motel.

To be a professional in the business means long hours, lack of privacy, and a restrictiveness that keeps the owner close to home.

Mr. Jungwirth opened his first bed-and-breakfast, The Gardner House, 13 years ago. His neighbor (and now a competitor) suggested he open a bed and breakfast in his 1893 Victorian home and flower shop because it had a separate, wheelchair accessible room on the ground floor.

The neighbor's bed-and-breakfast, The Bird and Hat Inn, had guest rooms only on the upper floors.

Guests from all over the world

Jungwirth's ground-floor guest room is now The Well House, a suite with a separate sitting room. He has a second guest room, The Madonna Room, on the upper floor.

He recently purchased The Stayton House, a 1905 Queen Anne home across the street. The lower floor will be a restaurant, and the upper floor already is a B&B with two guest rooms that share a bathroom - perfect for a family.

"We get people from all over the world," Jungwirth says, especially in his busy season from July through January.

It's quite an ordeal, when the houses are full. Jungwirth wakes at 5 a.m. to start breakfast. It's not just bacon and eggs. It's eggs Benedict, quiche, crepes, and a gourmet cracked oatmeal imported from England.

"You have to be able to cook well. And you have to present things well," Jungwirth says.

Breakfast is usually at 8:30 at Jungwirth's B&B, and then kitchen cleanup begins. When the guests check out, he changes the beds, washes sheets and towels, cleans the bathrooms, vacuums, and does whatever other housework needs to be done. Then it's time to check in new guests.

Rooms range from $55 to $65 a night - enough to pay for the upkeep and repairs of the two houses. And there's always something that needs to be fixed on a house that's over a century old.

Diane and John Sheiry, owners of the Waverly Inn in Hendersonville, N.C., have a social hour every night for the guests of their 17-room B&B. Nothing fancy. Fruit juices, some cheese and crackers, and nice conversation.

It's a change of pace from their past careers in the hotel industry. Mr. Sheiry was in upper management, and in that job he could have gone for years without even seeing a customer.

Now the Sheirys, like any small business owners, wear many hats: marketing, bookkeeping, cleaning, budgeting, and cooking.

"I think I worked just as hard before as I do now," Mrs. Sheiry says. But now she gets the chance to be involved in civic activities, such as Rotary and American Businesswomen, and is able to spend more time with their children.

"We've been here eight years now. The pressure to be pristine is not as much of a priority," she says. "We're really more interested in what the customer wants."

A place to spend the night

Ron and JoAnne Nowell had more of the romantic notion in mind.

They spent their honeymoon traveling through England, Scotland, and Ireland, staying in B&Bs and thinking about opening their own. Not too long after their return, they bought the perfect house to open one.

The Bear Valley Inn, a 1899 Victorian ranch house, sits one mile from Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, Calif. They spent four years renovating the home, and opened the doors to their first guest 11 years ago.

It's a fun lifestyle for the Nowells and their children. They meet people interested in the wildlife at Point Reyes or people just out for a drive looking for a place to spend the night.

And the toughest part? Again the business: The Nowells find it's sometimes difficult having to charge these new "friends" for lodging.

Rickie Hart searched three states for three years until she came upon her 1930s Colonial Revival home, with 1/2-acre on the banks of Mill Creek in Salem, Ore.

Now called the Marquee House, the 3,000-square-foot B&B has five guest rooms, three with private baths, one with a fireplace. Gifts from family members plus her extensive antique furniture collection helped furnish the home. Her B&B has a movie theme, with each guest room decorated for a different movie motif. Each night she shows a film in the living room, and serves hot, buttered popcorn.

"The bed-and-breakfast and breakfast was a way to become self-employed," says Ms. Hart. Besides substitute teaching a bit in the winter, the Marquee House is her sole income.

According to the innkeepers association, a B&B does not usually produce enough income to support a family. PAII estimates that 10 percent of B&B owners give up within the first three years, and 10 percent are still running the business after seven years. That leaves 80 percent running B&Bs between four to seven years.

Hart, of the Marquee House, is in her fourth year and plans to stick it out for a while.

That four-year mark is critical. It's when you get in the guide books, when you get the word-of-mouth bookings, and when the rewards start flowing.

"Without a doubt, it's the interaction with the guests," Hart says, describing the most enjoyable part of the job."I just kind of fell in love with it."

And the Nowells, after 11 years, still have "no regrets."

HOME PAGES

*NetTravel New Zealand: Thinking about vacationing Down Under? NetTravel New Zealand's page offers online searching for the type of lodging (bed-and-breakfast, hostel, hotel, etc.), location and price range. The home page even includes a currency converter. Find it at http://www.NetTravel.co.nz

*Canada's bed and breakfasts: Along the same lines as New Zealand's bed-and-breakfast list, offers search capabilities for bed-and-breakfasts in all of Canada's provinces. Find it at http://www.solardesign.com/biz/inns/searchform.html.

*Recipes: One online guidebook offers recipes from bed-and-breakfasts across the United States, such as Delicate Fluffy Pancakes from 1874 Stonehouse on Mulberry Hill in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. Find the recipe index at http://www.cimarron.metronet.com/recipes/ recipes.html

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