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Archive for September, 2008

A small but constant number of people who visit McLallen House remark that they too have entertained the idea of owning and running a bed and breakfast. Almost always they add, “when I retire.”

This is not a good plan.

Running a bed and breakfast requires a lot of physical labor, especially if you have one in an old house. From day to day there is laundry, cooking and cleaning to do. If you have five guest rooms, then it like doing all of that for a family with 10 children, except that you don’t tend to have the same faces at the table from week to week.

The analogy of house full of kids extends to your regular need to repair things that have been broken. Your guests are not familiar with the geography and technology of your home, so they are more apt to break things than a continual resident might be. For example, we had no fewer than five bed and breakfast guests backed into the lamp post in our parking area until finally a friend administered the coup de grace one winter night. The next day it snowed and the guy who plows our driveway missed the driveway itself, scraping over the portion of our lawn where the fallen lamp post lay, smearing it in pieces across the landscape.

Interestingly not one of the bed and breakfast guests who backed into the lamp post ever acknowledged having done so (our friend ‘fessed up immediately), even though the paint of the post was on their bumper and the paint of their bumper was one the post. People, as they say, are funny.

The original sash windows are still hanging in our house, but the counterweights have long since parted ways with the chains that connected them to the sashes. We therefore have to prop up the sashes with pieces of wood. On a good day I remember to tell guests that if they wish to turn on the air conditioning that (1) they should close the windows first (yes, you have to tell some folks this), and (2) they have to let the window down carefully after removing the wooden prop. Nevertheless, at this writing there are at least two cracked windowpanes in the house where someone has forgotten and dropped the sash.

Before the cold weather comes I’ll have to scrape out the old glazing, remove the window and install a new one. Of course what I really need to do is reconnect the counterweights to the sashes. But that is a job that will likely take several weekends as there are 22 of these old windows in the house and the joinery around the windows has to be partially dismantled in order to get into the compartments on either side of the sash where the counterweights (used to) hang. This is all assuming that the lead weights are still in there.

There are also jobs that you might let slide if you were living in a private residence that you really can’t let go if you are having guests all the time. In our case it was the haphazard flagstone side walk that had been thrown about by the maple trees that used to line the street. The up-thrown stones created impromptu risers in the sidewalk that were up to 4 inches in height. This, coupled with the fact that the stones tend to be slippery when wet, was an accident waiting to happen.

After a couple of loads of sand (in the back of the Volvo) and two weekends wielding a pike and a few cunningly cut pieces of wood I managed to get the walk somewhere back toward level. I didn’t attempt to make in entirely flat; I just tried to get the edges of the stones to meet up. The result is a much less dangerous, but still charmingly bucolic looking sidewalk.

But the stones are about three feet on a side and 3 or 4 inches thick. They are heavy and not something that I would want to be manhandling in my retirement years (I am closing in on my 48th birthday, so I am not exactly young either).

In addition to the physical demands, there are also the amount of time required to simply keep up with the paperwork involved in running a small business. In addition to the usual bookkeeping and bill paying that goes along with running every small business, the innkeeper must keep track of the guest calendar. Technology has made this easier in various ways, but the things that allow you to take reservations can also make it more difficult to keep track of them.

We forward our land line to our cell phone and take the calendar with us where ever we go. We can therefore take a reservation on paper, but we don’t bring a laptop with us and wouldn’t be able to get on the internet everywhere in order to immediately update our availablity online. The cost of incomplete bookkeeping in this regard is embarrassment at best.

If your idea of retirement is to keep busy all the time, then maybe innkeeping isn’t such a bad idea, especially if your retirement income allows you to hire other people to take care of a lot of the physical tasks.

But if you had the idea that innkeeping was mostly about baking muffins and carousing with pleasant visitors, then you might want to look into it a bit more.

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