The B&B Experience
Discovering the charm and perks of local inns
By Billie Jean Plaster
As I woke up to a stunning view of the Kootenai Valley surrounded by the Selkirk and Purcell mountains, I was reminded of my first experience staying in a bed and breakfast. It was nearly six years ago during a weekend to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We had rented the suite that covered the entire top floor of the Inn the Garden B&B, where we could gaze over Kootenay Lake in Nelson, B.C., a small, mountain town much like ours.
In the morning we padded down two floors to the formal dining room, and we ate heartily while chatting with other guests and the hosts, who shared their story. They were disenfranchised professionals who had left Toronto and their good jobs in search of something simpler and more satisfying.
Today, my B&B experience had led me to a ridge top above the Kootenai Valley where the owners of the Paradise Valley Inn B&B had graciously let us take "Cleopatra's Bedroom." The view was great from all five rooms, but we chose this room for its claw-foot bathtub built for two.
Our hosts' story was similar to that of the Nelson innkeepers. Gene and Arlene Sloan had last lived in Minneapolis; they left the big city and traveled the Rockies for nearly six months, looking to fulfill Gene's dream of someday living in the Rocky Mountains. This former real estate broker and architect didn't set out to build a B&B. They built their dream home on the bench above Bonners Ferry and then, only months later, remodeled it to turn it into a B&B.
"The idea just came out of the blue," Arlene said. She explains that the move just felt right for them. "Sometimes you're led to something that's really good for you."
According to the American Bed & Breakfast Association, the industry has grown rapidly since it was first introduced in the '60s. In 1980 there were 5,000 to 6,000 domestic inns; by 1991 that number had grown to 20,000 properties, according to a study published by the U.S. Travel Data Center. The properties have changed, too, to accommodate guests who expect more gracious and upscale accommodations.
In my research for this story, I met a wide variety of people who run B&Bs in and around Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry. Though they varied in personality, age, background, et cetera, they shared several traits in common: they're all "people" people, gracious, generous, kind and friendly.
In the previous months, I had visited all of the local establishments under the "guise" of working on a story. My ulterior motive, though, was to satisfy my curiosity and nourish my love for beautiful homes. I found plenty of nourishment; the Sandpoint-Bonners Ferry area boasts no less than nine bed and breakfasts -- each one beautiful, each one unique. Touring through nearly every B&B room available locally, I've seen views of Lake Pend Oreille, Sand Creek, the slopes of Schweitzer, and the Cabinet, Selkirk and Purcell mountains. Rooms range from the simply decorated to the elegantly decked out.
That morning at Paradise Valley, Arlene cooked a delicious breakfast in two courses; Dutch babies followed by a smoked salmon frittata with a side of fresh, sliced strawberries. We visited as she cooked, and later Gene joined us. He explained that doing a B&B has been good for them, personally. "This gets us out and with people," he said. Arlene added, "The people: that's what it really boils down to, meeting people."
All the innkeepers I met expressed their joy in taking care of people and meeting interesting folks. "We've met some absolutely wonderful people from all over the world," said Georgia Nichols. She and her husband, George, run Schweitzer Mountain B&B, a 5,000-square-foot lodge at Schweitzer that opened in 1996.
At Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, a 10,000-square-foot lodge is home to Janice and Roley Schoonover and their two children. "I enjoy people very much," Janice said. "You get to meet people from everywhere." While running a B&B is a demanding 7-day-a-week, 24-hour job, "It's definitely rewarding."
Marilyn Kamp of the Page House says, "The happiest time of my life was cooking and taking care of my family. The idea is finding a job and doing something that makes me happy," she said.
What do the guests get out of a B&B experience? Personal attention, pampering, the comforts of home, friendliness and the experience of staying in an extraordinary setting. Innkeepers are often willing to help guests in any way needed: recommending a restaurant; answering questions about local history, geography and points of interest, and more.
When Ron and Lori Panziera, a couple from Monterey County, Calif., stayed at Paradise Valley Inn, it was their first time in a B&B. "I would prefer to stay in a B&B if we're on vacation in the future," Lori said, "because it has all those comforts of home. You're on more of a personal level."
Donna Barbetti of Scranton, Pa., agrees that staying in a B&B was like being at home. The experience she had at Paradise Valley was something she couldn't get staying in a 5-star hotel, she adds. "It was like being at home, except being waited on." And she found there was the right amount of privacy. "You can have your own personal space and yet interact with other guests if you want to," Barbetti said.
Ward Tollbom, a native of Sandpoint who owns Hen's Tooth Gallery, said he and his wife chose to get away one weekend by staying in a local B&B. At Schweitzer Mountain B&B, they felt like they were in a different world, but it was the hosts who made the biggest impression.
Tollbom said of Georgia: "Imagine the perfect grandmother, and then imagine going to spend the night at her house."
Some innkeepers say once you've tried B&Bs, you'll never go back to motels again, that is if you like being pampered by friendly hosts and feeling as if you're at home when you're not.
Billie Jean Plaster is a Sandpoint Magazine staffer who thinks home is the best place to be, and B&Bs are a close second.