'B&B' means 'business is booming'

The interior of Fuurin-Oka Futon & Breakfast. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
The interior of Fuurin-Oka Futon & Breakfast.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

Aah, the life on an innkeeper.

Imagine being able to be your own boss, work out of your home, and meet interesting people from around the world.

So could you put that extra room to work, going into business as a bed and breakfast?

Actually, you probably could, say a number of the island’s B&B owners.

“I had no idea we’d be this busy,” said Mary Croy, who last November christened her home on the outskirts of Winslow the Janelle Place Bed and Breakfast. “We have at least as much business as we want.”

The lodging business has been increasing slowly but steadily for several years, innkeepers say.

“Thank goodness for housekeepers,” said Judy Gibbs, whose Buchanan Inn is one of the island’s largest B&Bs, with four guest rooms. “It’s been a wonderful summer.”

Gibbs said year-round occupancy is nearing 75 percent – a number that industry experts suggest is “full” for all practical purposes.

It’s not as though Bainbridge is going to rival, say, Las Vegas or Orlando as a tourist destination.

The 19 B&Bs that have banded together as the Bainbridge Island Lodging Association offer a total of 30 rooms – fewer than the 46 rooms in the Island Country Inn, which is also an association member.

“The island has had sort of a love-hate relationship with tourism,” said association president Mickey Molnaire, who operates the Japanese-themed Fuurin-Oka Futon & Breakfast with husband Ron Konzak. “But we don’t have the demographic that people think about when they think ‘obnoxious tourists.’”

Mike Ryherd of Willow Brook Farm said the top three reasons his guests come to Bainbridge are to visit friends, to do business on the island, and to attend functions like reunions, graduations and especially weddings.

“Kiana Lodge (across the Agate Passage Bridge) has become a very popular wedding spot,” he said, and that helps the B&Bs. “Whole wedding parties like to book several B&Bs to have more privacy.”

Another factor that helps the establishments, he said, is that Island Country Inn is doing so well.

“It was full for much of the summer, so we got a lot of overflow,” he said.

For the most part, though, the B&B owners say they cater to a different crowd than do the larger lodging establishments.

“We get people who have business in Seattle, stay here and walk on the ferry,” Gibbs said. “They prefer a less anonymous experience.”

Visitors also appreciate the different ambience of the B&Bs – the environmental restoration work done at the Waterfall Gardens B&B, the miniature horses that make Willow Brook a magnet for sub-teenage girls, or the sense of history that pervades the Captain’s House on Parfitt Way, one of the island’s oldest B&Bs.

“People are real interested in the stories about Bainbridge,” said Meg Hagemann, who opened the Captain’s House in 1982. “I’m really glad the historical society is moving downtown.”

While tourism may be low-key, it’s not an insignificant contributor to the island’s economy, Molnaire said.

The city applies a small hotel-motel tax to guest receipts.

In 2000, the tax yielded almost $47,000, which computes to $2.24 million in lodging tabs, she said. Despite the drastic falloff right after the September terrorist attack last year, overall lodging revenue rose to $.2.275 million, Molnaire said, and she thinks this year will be stronger still.

One factor in the improvement is the joint advertising done by the association – an updated website and some 60,000 brochures on the ferry system.

The thrust of those efforts is to increase awareness of the island as a weekend getaway destination, where people, generally from the area, can come for a short stay.

That’s actually good for the economy, Molnaire said, because visitors from nearby are in a position to do more shopping than folks who need to go home by airplane.

“We had one couple come and spend $400 at Bainbridge Gardens,” she said. “Others have bought antiques and furniture.”

In addition to advertising, the association offers mutual support and advice, and welcomes potential B&B operators at its monthly meetings.

“The operators are very supportive of each other,” Ryherd said, “because if visitors have a quality experience, they will come back.”

The downside of running a B&B – you won’t get rich. It’s strictly supplemental income, the operators say. But there are other rewards.

“You meet people from all over the world,” Hagemann said. “It’s a fun business to be in.”

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