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The Good Old Days of Bed and Breakfasting
by  Sandra CH Smith

(Eureka Springs, Arkansas)

When I opened the very first B&B in downtown Philadelphia in the mid-70s, you didn't put out a sign, you didn't have soaps with your own logo, you didn't have stationery with a fancy line drawing of the Inn, you didn't advertise in guidebooks, chic magazines or newspapers, you didn't have an 800 number (in fact, you didn't ever answer any calls for reservations....the reservation service you paid $30 a year and 5% commission to did that for you). 

You didn't spend thousands on brochures and mailers, you didn't send newsletters, you didn't have a reservation program on a computer because you didn't have a computer, you never talked to another innkeeper because there weren't any......all the rest were out on farms in the Penna. Dutch Country and there weren't even any in Bucks County!

You didn't organize Mystery Weekends, Gardeners Retreats, Massage Therapy for guests, Victorian picnics, candlelight dinners, sunset dinner lake cruises, airplane rides.....none of this.

What you did do was hurry and scurry each time the reservation service called to see if you wanted a guest for that weekend. After a very detailed verbal description (by Stella who ran the service) of the potential visitor ('Harvard professor, 59, single, with 30 years tenure, divorced 8 years, all grown kids out of the house, likes to play chess and listen to classical music, loves exotic cuisine, doesn't smoke, loves to walk, coming for an academic conference') - you knew more about your potential guest back then than you knew about your ex-husband of 20 years!

So, you said to yourself, 'Hmmmmmm, do I want to entertain a divorced Harvard professor this weekend or not?' If you needed a little cash and didn't have any other exciting things going, you hurried around and cleaned the bedroom you usually slept in, you moved your undies out of the top bureau drawer and pushed most of your clothes (at least the ones you didn't want to wear that weekend) to the back of the only closet. You quick cleaned out the tub and sink, stripped the bed and ran to the laundromat to wash the only set of sheets you owned - well, after all, you were a starving poet existing on a steady diet of raisins and peanuts and knew you would make a terrible waitress like the rest of the literati. 

So you opened your historical cottage as a B&B ~ dug out that extra set of daffodil-yellow (read: ugly) towels your mother had sent you last year for your birthday, and raced to the supermarket to buy some bagels, muffins, cheese, fresh fruit, some exotic coffee beans, and if you were lucky enough to have any moola left over, a small posy of fresh flowers for the bedroom!

The place looked pretty nice and you were just ready to sit down and relax, when you remembered you had a date that night and the guest was going to be arriving after you had already left for the hospital charity ball at the Bellevue- Stratford Hotel around the corner.

You quickly scribble a note to tack to the front door: 'John from Harvard - I forgot I had a date. Please back up, turn around and walk 42 steps down the cobblestone lane to the end, turn right and walk 14 steps to the corner pay phone. Call 732-4009 (your date's answering machine number on which you will put a message that the guest should turn around and retrace his steps and he will find the key to the door under that cobblestone painted purple to the left of the front door, that in case you're not back in time for breakfast, you've left it all ready in the icebox and the percolator just needs to be plugged in, there's a box of real oatmeal next to the stove if he feels like making some in the morning, and there's some homemade cookies by the bed. You also tell him he can have a midnight snack of whatever he finds in the icebox, play any music he wants to on your stereo - the tapes are in that old shoebox under the piano - and he can check out whenever he likes, just leave the room rate of $35 on top of the parrot's cage. Oh, and a quarter for the phone call is with the key!)

When you get home the next day about noon, he has already checked out and left a little box of Lady Godiva chocolates on the piano, a single long-stemmed red rose on the lute with a note, 'I had the most relaxing wonderful time since ever I can remember.....I would sure love to meet you someday. Thanks! P.S. I love your taste in music!'

And that is how it was in the mid-seventies, downtown Philadelphia, where all your old suburbanite friends were appalled that you chose to become an urban guerilla and live alone 'down there with all that crime!'  Bed and breakfasting was like it used to be in Britain and the rest of Europe where they'd put out a sign, 'Zimmerfrei' or 'Room with Breakfast', and you had to move the old lady's girdles over in the top bureau drawer before putting away your travel clothes. It was a lot easier then...homey, down-to-earth, comfortable. Today, it is big business and alas, the days of the old percolator and oatmeal porridge are gone!


About the author:

Sandra CH Smith - After some glorious years of doing B&B in Center City Philadelphia, Sandra bought a 35-foot sailboat in California, taught herself how to sail and took off sailing alone in the Pacific for 7 years. In 1992, she came directly from the middle of the ocean to Eureka Springs, Arkansas where she opened Cliff Cottage B&B Inn and has been having a delightful time running it ever since! Visit her website at www.cliffcottage.com

Article and photos submitted by:

Sandra CH Smith 
Cliff Cottage Inn
42 Armstrong St.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632


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