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Breakfast and bed: Arkansas' more than 200 bed-and-breakfast inns struggle to be noticed.

The sun rises on the cool autumn morning.

As the beams peak through the antique lace curtains, you yawn and stretch.

Gazing out the bedroom window, you are taken by the view. November's vivid colors are ignited by the new day.

This is living.

If not for the enticing scents of homemade bread and spiced apple cider, you would never leave the warm comfort of the iron bedstead.

You're obviously at your grandmother's house, right?


You are waking up at one of more than 200 homes in Arkansas where the owners treat strangers like family.

Pat Hardy of the California-based Professional Innkeepers Association International says bed-and-breakfast inns are a growing alternative to sterile, look-alike hotels and motels.

"B&Bs are cropping up all over the South," Hardy says. "It's not with the almost hysterical fervor we saw for a while, but |growth~ is steady."

Ned Shank, co-owner of Dairy Hollow House Inn at Eureka Springs, the state's most recognized bed-and-breakfast inn, has seen the number of B&Bs in northwest Arkansas explode during the past two decades. He and his wife, Crescent Dragonwagon, opened the Ozarks' first one in 1981.

With more than 40 B&Bs in the Eureka Springs area, it is clear location plays a major role in the success of such inns.

But "success" must be defined.

Business success is not determined in the same way by large corporations as it is by the owners of small bed-and-breakfast inns.

The personal touches for which B&Bs are famous -- tea at bedtime, breakfast delivered in a basket to a guest's room, a personalized menu of local activities -- can be threatened by too much growth.

That level of personal attention is what upscale hotels try to promote but can't seem to deliver.

Although this quaint quality is what B&B patrons prefer, any business owner will tell you that without publicity, a business cannot survive. With more money to pump into marketing, hotels receive much more attention.

The recently formed Bed and Breakfast Association of Arkansas is out to change that.

Swallowed Up

Helen Bartlett, the organization's chairwoman and owner of Vintage Comfort Bed-and-Breakfast Inn at Hot Springs, says the association has three goals:

* To promote knowledge of bed-and-breakfast inns as well as tourism in Arkansas.

* To form a network of B&Bs.

* To influence legislation pertaining to B&Bs.

Bartlett says B&Bs are "swallowed up in the tourism industry."

The state Department of Parks and Tourism distributes a brochure about the state's bed-and-breakfast inns. But owners must pay a fee to be included, and the brochure is not as widely distributed as B&B owners would like.

The most recent brochure included 30 inns. Bartlett hopes the new organization can develop a better relationship with the department.

For now, B&Bs must rely on direct mail and creative advertising gimmicks to attract customers. And many B&B owners can afford no marketing expenses.

Dottie Woodwind, a BBAA board member and owner of Dr. Witt's Quapaw Inn in downtown Little Rock, says the organization wants to publish its own guide. The BBAA also hopes to establish standards and then limit its membership to legitimate bed-and-breakfast inns.

"Legitimate" means an inn that is located in a building uniquely decorated, preferably a historical structure. It must provide a special "ambience" and more personal attention than a hotel. It also must serve a deluxe continental or full breakfast.

Standards are a controversial subject among B&B owners.

"I don't like standards," Woodwind says. "But if we confine the standards to general things like cleanliness and safety while staying away from things that make us all look the same like hotels, the plan might work."

Bed-and-breakfast inns are designed to provide a fresh atmosphere for travelers. Some fear strict guidelines could eliminate the originality.

Because B&Bs are so different, it is often difficult to determine which ones are of high quality. Even among the inns inspected by organizations such as the American Automobile Association, which publishes a nationwide guide, inconsistencies arise depending on an inspector's taste and judgment.

Woodwind says implementing B&B standards while maintaining each inn's unique qualities is indeed a challenge.

Controlling Growth

Woodwind's Quapaw Inn is distinguished from other historical homes in Little Rock's Quapaw Quarter by its carnation-pink exterior. The unusual exterior, as well as an eclectically furnished interior, is representative of the owner's belief in individuality.

The zoning commission that governs downtown Little Rock has approved two B&Bs in the historical district. It will allow up to 10 bed-and-breakfast inns in the district.

There are places such as Eureka Springs that are running out of housing for people who live there. Recently, that city's planning commission placed a moratorium on new bed-and-breakfast establishments, claiming the surplus of inns was causing parking and sewage problems. Opponents of the decision say the commission is restricting tourism growth.

Woodwind is one of those who believes the more the merrier. She thinks more B&Bs would add to the historical quality of downtown Little Rock, attracting frequent travelers who are "sick and tired of the mustiness and sameness of motels."

She says one-third of her repeat guests are businessmen and women who prefer the safety and comfort of B&Bs.

In rural Arkansas, where innkeepers are free from zoning restrictions and rely on tourists, bed-and-breakfast inns struggle to become known.

Country School Inn Bed and Breakfast in Langley (Pike County) gained its popularity among travelers in southwest Arkansas by word of mouth and a small pamphlet. The former school, built of native stone in the 1940s, opened in 1987 and has yet to make money.

It takes the average B&B owner five to 10 years to turn a profit.

Old buildings, in which a majority of inns are located, usually require complete and costly renovations.

The Bed and Breakfast Association of Arkansas hopes that promoting small B&Bs will help ease the financial strain.

Owner Charlotte Ayers of the Country School Inn says she and her husband, Eddy, who are in their early 50s, plan to operate the inn through their retirement years.

Like most innkeepers, the Ayers love making visitors feel at home.

They enjoy creating a romantic atmosphere for honeymooners. They like to give those visitors from Texas an Arkansas weekend they won't forget.

And like most innkeepers, they feel their success can't be calculated on a balance sheet.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Small Business Focus
Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 4, 1991
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