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B&Bs bounce back

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — It’s a romantic notion: buying a house in the older part of town, fixing it up just the way you like it, and using the spare bedrooms to bring in extra income. What could be nicer than owning a bed and breakfast in Colorado?

Plenty of things, if you’re relying on your B&B for your sole source of income.

“It’s better this year over last,” said Sue Connelly, co-owner of Dickens House Bed & Breakfast. “I would say 2002 was a disaster — I think we only had one visitor, if that.

“I don’t know how many business travelers we had that called and said, ‘We’d like to, but we’re just really cutting back on our travel.’”

Luckily, income from the B&B is not the primary source of funds for Connelly and her husband, Kim Knake. The couple also are co-owners of Rabbit Hill Graphics & Signs.

Connelly said that in 2003, the B&B had about one to two visitors per month filling the three available bedrooms in the upstairs of the historic house, built in 1872.

Visitors new to staying in the home join the roles of those from 100 years ago, said Connelly: “The Dickens House has some old registers of people who have stayed here from around the world.”

By Longmont B&B standards, the home of Ellen’s Bed & Breakfast is positively youthful — it was built in 1905.

Ellen Ranson, who operates the inn with her husband, Baldwin — or “Baldy” as she calls him — has been in business a little more than 10 years, and she said they have never seen things as bad as they were after Sept. 11, 2001.

“How’s business? It’s improving slowly,” said Ranson, an actress and performer when she’s not playing the role of innkeeper. “But like everybody else in the lodging business, it was hit hard by 2001 because people just stopped traveling.”

Like the other B&Bs in town, Ellen’s typical customers are a mixture of relatives coming in from out of town to visit their Longmont kin and businesspeople who prefer the atmosphere of staying in a home versus a hotel.

“In the middle of 2002, it started to pick up, and then last year it was slow but it did pick up,” Ranson said. “Something that’s really helped us out is we’re ambassadors for the Longmont Chamber (of Commerce).”

This allows her to go out and meet new chamber members, which allows them to fill the new-

bies in on what the chamber has to offer and at the same time quietly spread the word about her B&B.

The newest B&B owner in town is Cee Dolenc, who bought the historic Thompson House two years ago, after it had been on the market for about a year.

The previous owner had decided to move, and the house offered Dolenc her first chance at operating a B&B. She was pleased to find out the house had been completely refurbished in 1994, the year it became a B&B.

Before discovering the Thompson House, a city of Longmont historic landmark built in 1887, Dolenc had been operating a tea room in Niwot.

“(My husband, Scott) found it,” Dolenc said. “He walked in and looked at the first three rooms and said, ‘I’m in big trouble.’”

Dolenc’s income is split among the B&B business, running her tea room — it’s one of only a couple in Northern Colorado — and a small gift shop that occupies one room of the house.

Some of the furnishings were bought from the previous owner, she said, but she has furnished most of the place herself.

“It was a pretty easy transformation from what we had before,” she said. “That’s why it kind of felt like it was meant to be.”

Given that she wasn’t open immediately after 9-11, Dolenc doesn’t have that as a reference point for business. But she said she is seeing things pick up — if only a little slower than she would like.

Being larger than the other two B&Bs in town, the Thompson House has an advantage in being able to host slightly larger groups of travelers. Recently, Dolenc said, she hosted a business retreat for five days.

Like the other innkeepers, Dolenc expressed a lot of enjoyment in her work. Owning a B&B can be fun, but it is a different kind of lifestyle.

“I feel like I wear a lot of different hats here, because I cook and clean and buy things for the gift shop,” Dolenc said. “The biggest surprise is how much I enjoy it.”

The Ransons are on their second B&B; they owned one years ago in Gunnison. Ellen Ranson, who said she takes pride in her “full-blown, high-cholesterol breakfasts,” said she and her husband especially enjoy having international visitors. But most of all, it’s simply getting to know the visitors, whether they’re regulars or staying with them for the first time.

“The bottom line is, if you’re going to run one of these, you’ve got to really like people,” Ranson said.

For Connelly, letting people stay in the Dickens House — on one of the most noteworthy pieces of property in the St. Vrain Valley — is a matter of being able to let visitors share a piece of history.

“You don’t really own something like this,” Connelly said. “You’re just caretakers on a place like this.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.