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Run a bed-and-breakfast
See my daughter happily married
Walk the Appalachian Trail
Great people skills
Innkeeping has fascinated me since I worked in Boston in my 20s. I joined a cycling group and we biked around New England and stayed at historic inns. The B and Bs were always so much nicer than hotels and the innkeepers seemed to love their job. "What an interesting life," I thought. "Maybe I'll do that someday."
My husband, Walter, shared my B and B fantasy. But we were much too busy raising our daughter, Johanna, and working full-time in sales to consider it. In 2004 the company we both worked for was sold and Walter and I were eventually laid off. I was only 56 and couldn't imagine retiring. Johanna was in college, so we were free to reinvent ourselves.
We both took temp jobs while we gingerly dusted off our B and B dream and began searching for a New England inn that was close to the ocean. We took a class in innkeeping and I worked in some basic accounting and computer courses. In 2007 we sold our suburban Boston home, put our stuff in storage, and moved to an apartment in a coastal Massachusetts town.
We looked at countless properties before we found the Maine Stay Inn, in Kennebunkport, Maine. Built as a private home in 1860, it has six rooms in the house, with 11 suites in cottages set around the property. In mid-April 2008 we became its proud owners.
What I Learned
It was a wild first year. We couldn't have foreseen the nose dive the economy would take just as we moved to Maine. On the second day we were open a furnace died. Less than a month later the year-round staff walked out en masse, including the cook, leaving just Walter, me, and the summer help to cover the high season. I don't cry easily but that day I sat on the stairs and buried my face in my hands. Still, we coped -- and worked like dogs. Even when business fell off after the high season the work was all-consuming: We painted, papered, refinished floors, installed new hardware, and sewed new draperies.
I've discovered that this is anything but a cushy retirement job. My day starts at 5 A.M. and ends when the last guest is checked in and the next day's breakfast is prepped. I've taken only two days off since we opened. But I have no regrets: I'm not lying when I say that we have never had a bad guest. I love meeting the people from around the world who come to stay with us. Running an inn is every bit as interesting and fulfilling as I had imagined it would be more than 30 years ago.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2009.