Did you buy your inn knowing you would operate it by yourself? Did it seem more daunting or exciting?
I built the Iron Mountain Inn on top of a mountain at the back of 140 acres which back up to the Cherokee National Forest. The Appalachian Trail runs along the ridge behind the Inn.
I moved to Tennessee from Connecticut after my husband passed away with the idea of finding land and building a log home to be used as a B&B. I never gave a thought about whether it might be difficult to do alone ... as Nike says, Just Do It! And I look at innkeeping as running a family who really appreciates you. Plus, I discovered I love designing and building homes.
I did go to a career counselor since this was a big step and, after a few sessions, we both agreed this was the right choice for me. And it certainly has been!
But my mother rented rooms in her home after my father died, and my grandmother used to rent her house for three or four months every year so she would have some income for the rest of the year. She then went to Mexico and painted! My husband and I had always entertained a lot, but when I told my daughter what I was going to do with the rest of my life she said: "But Mom, you don't like to cook, you hate to clean and you can't decorate, how can your run a B&B?" Guess I must have learned something since I'm still in business 15 years later and going strong!
What personal characteristics do you have that made you suited to do this solo?
I've always done a great many things alone: took my kids on a cross-country camping trip because I thought they should learn about the US; I used to do 100 mile horseback rides (which is how I found the Appalachian Mountains); and a friend and I hitchhiked around Europe for about 3 months.
I come from a line of independent women who decide to do something and it gets done. My grandmother took a round-the-world trip alone at 73 and went parasailing at 84. I've taken windjammer cruises through the Caribbean, I drive from Tennessee to New Jersey to visit my daughter and her family two or three times a year. I have great confidence in my own abilities I guess.
What are the particular trials of operating an inn as a single person?
Waiting for guests who say they will come at three o'clock, don't call, and don't show up until eight. I might like to take a shower or run a last-minute errand and I don't feel I should do either in case the guests arrive. I want to be here to welcome everyone who comes to the top of the mountain! Having to do all the shopping alone is another challenge. Mostly it's OK, but sometimes it is nice to bounce an idea off someone.
At first, the local workmen weren't sure about taking orders from a woman … especially from "The North." But we're good friends now and even the postman said "we've adopted Vikki."
What do you feel are the benefits of running an inn by yourself? At least there's no one to argue with about the decor, right?
That's one of them, but when I was building I finally did get tired of making all the decisions and told the tile person the theme of the rooms and she did something with the tiles in the bathrooms to represent that theme.
Another benefit is that if I make a mistake, it's mine and if I do something great, it's mine. And I'm leaving a legacy -- not for my kids because they don't like the mountains, but I've always felt houses/homes have histories. When I left my home in Connecticut, I wrote its biography and I'll do the same with the Inn in the hopes that future owners will continue the story of the Log Home on the Hill -- something generations 100 years from now might enjoy reading. I chose the land, I designed the house, I was the general contractor and good or bad, it represents me and my dream. As you say, no one to argue with!
What advice would you give someone contemplating a solo run at innkeeping?
Either round up very good handyman help or be able to do a lot of repairs yourself. You must not be afraid of "things that go bump in the night" since you might jump at every little noise. Since I lived alone after my husband died I was used to the creaking and crackings of a house. Of course, when the car alarm went off at 2:00 AM one night, I did wonder. Turned out to be a bear had broken into the car and set off the alarm. But if you really want to do it, don't let anyone talk you out of it -- you can do it!
Also, find some good housekeeping help.
Then there's taking care of yourself. Be sure to take time for yourself and watch what and when and where you eat or you might end up eating too much junk food and not have enough energy to do your job and be a gracious host to your guests. Let your guests help if they offer (and mine always do … even to chopping wood for the fireplace). In fact, I have to often remind them they have paid good money to sit and be waited on and enjoy our "Pampering Perfected" service.
Do you have a particularly humorous story about innkeeping as single woman that you'd like to share?
While I was building I lived in a trailer next to the creek. Since I began building in the summer I used the creek as my bathing facility. I invited some neighbors over for dinner one evening and was air drying with a towel wrapped around me while I got the fire going when the neighbors arrived right on time! Now I came from the Northeast where if someone invited you for dinner at 6:00 the earliest you would show up would be 6:30! Luckily it was just the wife since the son and and husband had to finish up feeding the cows. So I was able to get dressed before the men arrived, but they never invited me to their house.
Anything else I should know?
I'll be 77 in June and still love what I do. There are lots of exciting things happening in this area and I'm planning to be part of the new recreational development that’s under way. I've also built another log cabin down by the creek for families with children and dogs and I also felt since I had a home on top of the mountain and a log cabin by the creek, I needed a house for my retirement years on the nearby lake. So I built another house on the lake. I love designing and building! I’ve got plans for another home one of these days.