It's a question few bed and breakfast owners will ever hear, but the owners of the official B&B of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire have had to field it. "He wanted to bring knives and swords," said Marilyn Fiedler, innkeeper of the Inn at Mt. Hope. She let him, as well as several other Faire-goers whose costumes included weaponry.
Another time, "A woman called one night at 2 a.m. and wanted to know, 'Do you take small animals?'," Fiedler said. "I told her no. Then she hung up."
So it goes sometimes when you run a bed and breakfast. Fiedler and her husband, Joe, purchased the historic inn six months ago. Since then, she has learned to keep her composure in even the toughest of circumstances.
Despite finding herself in unusual situations from time to time, Fiedler said the joy of meeting interesting people makes her job rewarding. A sizeable part of her role as innkeeper is to make guests feel welcome and comfortable.
Some guests, Fiedler said, have told her of less-than-perfect experiences at other B&Bs. More than once she's heard, "We feel like we're putting people out," or "We don't feel welcome." Her philosophy is to put on a smile for the guests -- no matter how bad a day she's having. "You have to be a people person."
The Inn at Mt. Hope is blessed with a prime location, one of the keys to a successful bed and breakfast. Just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Manheim, the inn is perfectly situated for visitors to the Renaissance Faire during the late summer and early fall. The nearby Mt. Hope Estate and Winery also plays host to several other annual events, including November's "Poe Evermore" and December's "A Charles Dickens Victorian Christmas." Other nearby destinations include the picturesque Amish country of Lancaster County and the sweet smell of chocolate in Hershey.
Fiedler also markets the inn as a setting for small weddings, family reunions, and a retreat center for church groups or other organizations. Using flyers, business cards, gift certificates, the Internet, and plenty of word-of-mouth, Fiedler tries to keep the six-room inn filled to capacity.
Room rates range from $60 to $110, the most expensive being the Parker Suite, which includes a fireplace, dressing room, canopy bed, and a private bathroom. The Fiedlers, who first stayed in a bed and breakfast about three years ago, plan to add a seventh room with a loft and a Renaissance Faire theme in the near future.
The inn was first used in 1860 as a home for Mary Shippen Grubb Parker, who oversaw the construction of a school (now a private residence) nearby and whose father had built the family mansion (now part of the Mt. Hope Estate and Winery) just across a small stream.
National statistics show that more than half of all B&B guests are 35 to 54 years old, and the 49-year-old Fiedler said she's surprised how many younger adults stay at the inn. "They say it's just like coming home to your own place," she said.
And, just like your own place, bed and breakfasts often have a quirky charm. At a recent wedding, the fire alarm went off just as the bride was walking down the stairs with her father. A door near the fireplace was open, and the backdraft caused the alarm to sound, Fiedler said. Fortunately, the family was not upset by the noise, she added -- they simply imagined it was the ringing of wedding bells.
Although Fiedler spends most of her time at the inn taking care of the many details, she and Joe live in Grantville. She holds down a two day per week job as a nurse at an allergist's office, and Joe owns an advertising agency. Neither had significant experience in the hospitality industry, aside from Marilyn's stint as a waitress years ago.
When her husband approached her with the news that the previous innkeepers were selling the B&B, Fiedler remembers her reaction as, "So what?" Showing his entrepreneurial spirit, Joe convinced her that it would be a good business for her to run -- although she has some doubts about his assessment of her job responsibilities. "I don't think he realized how much work it would be," she said, smiling.
Every morning, guests are greeted with a breakfast -- Joe likes to say that everyone is well-fed -- which could include spiced pears, French toast, bacon, dry cereals, yogurt, and a flavored coffee and tea of the day. "And we always ask about dietary restrictions and allergies," Fiedler said. Due to local zoning ordinances, any meals other than breakfast must be catered.
Like most start-up businesses, the Fiedlers don't expect to turn a profit in the first year. But that doesn't mean they're not planning to make money in the near future. "We had an accountant figure out how many rooms we would need to book," Fiedler said. "We want to make it work."
There is no half-way in the bed and breakfast industry, she added. "Either you're an innkeeper or you're not. When it gets to the point where it's not fun anymore, we'll sell."
NOTE: Since this article was originally published, the Fiedlers have sold the Inn at Mt. Hope.