In an earlier feature regarding the roadblocks a city can put in front of your dream B&B (In The Zone), I described our own experience in navigating obstacles in order to open our inn.
At the Planning and Zoning meeting, I mentioned how nearly 60 of our neighbors protested our project and told the board that our guests would walk on city sidewalks, that they would sit on our porch in view of everyone, that an inn would open the floodgates to strip malls and gas stations, and that our inn would cater to pedophiles who planned to kidnap babies.
When you live in the insular world of bed and breakfasts (and freelance writing), you tend to think your problems are yours alone but they never are. One of the most valuable books for B&B owners is the Jan Stankus classic, How to Open and Operate A Bed & Breakfast. Whether you’re an innkeeper, an interim innkeeper, or aspiring innkeeper, it’s a wonderful reference tool since it will reassure you that your experiences are shared by others, and will remind you that the knowledge that you take for granted is something that may need to be shared with your guests.
And your neighbors.
KEEPING IT ON THE QT
In fact, Stankus has an entire section that deals with the fear and suspicions that drive the anxiety of neighbors who haven’t a clue about the atmosphere of an inn. She points out that many new innkeepers wonder if they should make overtures to neighbors to announce the opening of their B&B or take out a full-page ad. In a word… no.
Describing innkeeping as the “gentle art of hospitality,” Stankus suggests that, like other home-based businesses, many neighbors may not even notice you’ve opened an inn. She cites several innkeepers who went a year or more before informing neighbors that a B&B was in operation. And all the cars? Ample parking made it seem as if the homeowners simply had plenty of friends.
If, like us, you have to get permission from the City to open your B&B, you won’t be able to keep the inn under wraps. Likewise, if you’re counting on community support, you’ll need to obtain the goodwill (and referrals) of local merchants and citizens. In that case, it will be your role to educate these people on the merits of a B&B. Offer an open house to members of the Chamber staff or downtown merchants association. Invite the neighbors to see how you’ve fixed up and renovated the old house that no one believed in. People fear the unknown and this is your chance to convince them your dream is a good thing.
And while this conclusion isn’t scientific, it seems that once you obtain approval and become part of the neighborhood, animosity evaporates into understanding and, eventually, patronage.
Stankus again notes several innkeepers who, following bruising battles to receive permission to open their B&B, later received the support of people who once opposed them. Some even brought over handmade gifts and baked goods. In fact, we experienced the same return as people who opposed us called to see if we had room for their visiting friends and relatives.
More than two decades after the first Big Bang of bed and breakfasts, the industry is still a mystery to many people. If your dream is to open a B&B, the City will look at the law. Your neighbors, though, will look at you. Get on their good side and take the mystery out of your bed and breakfast.