To B&B or not to B&B? That is the question

In most small towns, the biggest and most elegant building on Main Street is the funeral home. Or an old-age home. These buildings always look as if they might be the starring attraction in Stephen King's next novel.

The biggest house in one nearby town is a huge, white Victorian that looks like a wedding cake. It has a wide front porch that runs the length of the house, along with three-story turrets with curved glass windows topped with witches' hat roofs. Gables and wings and filigree and shutters and shingles hang off the house like pearls around an old lady's neck. It is bigger than Perkins' Funeral Home and the Falling Leaves Home for Seniors combined -- the two other biggest houses on Main Street.

Anne and Jim bought the Wedding Cake about two years ago. I ran into Anne mowing the lawn and introduced myself. She told me they were going to turn it into a bed and breakfast. She went on and on about how wonderful it was going to be, and how their only worry was that they wouldn't have enough room for all the guests who would want to stay there. "This is the most perfect little town," she said. "It's not spoiled with a bunch of tourist traps and souvenir shops and outlet malls. It's like a movie set. You could shoot a movie here. Like 'The Music Man.'"

Anne and Jim, it goes without saying, were from the city. They loved staying in B&Bs. They enjoyed getting up at 10 in the morning and walking down to a dining room that looked the way it did in the 1880s, with crystal chandeliers and wall sconces and sepia pictures of the owner's relatives on the wall. They enjoyed lolling around until noon reading the newspaper, then strolling through the local antique shops. They loved sitting in big overstuffed chairs after dinner, drinking fine wine and chatting with the other guests.

"And that's just what they tell you in the entrepreneur class we took at City College. They say 'Do what you know, do what you love.' So Jim and I quit our jobs and took the plunge." Today I drove past the Wedding Cake and there was a big red "For Sale" sign staked in the lawn. It turns out that Anne and Jim did what they knew and did what they loved. And while Anne and Jim loved getting out of bed at 10 in the morning and reading the paper until noon, their guests, who got up at half past 6, did not love it. Anne and Jim ran a very fine "B," by all reports, but they failed the "&B" part miserably. Even that might have worked, had there been been any other place to eat in town.

Mrs. Reticule, who lives next door, said that the guests were so desperate, they would see the lights on in her kitchen and walk over to her back door and beg her for coffee. She finally started putting a large coffee urn out on her back porch with stack of styrofoam cups and a tip jar. But she stopped doing that when she found a note in the jar one morning that said, "You call this coffee? Would it kill you to put out some freshly ground French roast? Maybe some hazelnut?"

Not that there were ever many guests to disappoint. Once you have walked around the unspoiled town without souvenir shops and outlet malls, there is not much left to do with the remaining 23-and-a-half hours in your day.

Anne was right; you could film "The Music Man" here. But you'd have to go to some other town with a theater to watch it. And that town got all their B&B business.

So now the real estate agent is doing what he knows, doing what he loves best -- selling the Wedding Cake to the next dreamer for whatever the market will bear.

Contact Jim Mullen at

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