My wife makes more money as an internationalization coordinator than I have ever made, even as a corporate writer. That’s not saying much, but with her salary, and mine as a full-time adjunct lecturer, we’re able to pay for our drafty Victorian, heat it through subzero cold snaps, and perform maintenance and the occasional improvement. We also have two little boys, two dogs, and two cats to provide for. Like most Americans, we could always use some extra cash, so a few weeks ago we determined to turn a portion of our historic house into an inn, renting a couple of rooms and offering meals to the many wayward academics passing through Inner Station.
I got excited about the venture and wanted to dub it The Crossed Harpoons or The Sword-Fish Inn or The Spouter-Inn, after ones in Moby Dick. But the sensible Mrs. Churm laughed in a way that suggested “You’re a humorist, Oronte,” and said we’d call our place Churm House.
We have no experience as hoteliers, I’ll admit, but we have other qualifications. Mrs. Churm is a good bookkeeper and does all the laundry. I’ve cooked our meals since we met, and have light carpentry and even lighter plumbing and mechanical skills. We clean toilets and tub and make beds and catch rogue spiders in tissues to let them outside and do the thousand other weekly tasks that make a house livable. More than anything, neither of us has never not worked since we were kids.
It’s often said that English majors don’t know anything; they just know where to go to find things out. Mrs. Churm and I were both English majors, so we knew to start at the public library. For me, there’s a special joy in perusing shelves of books when there’s something else to be done, and the farther I wander from the intended topic, the better. I wound up cross-legged on the floor, reading about châteaux of the Loire. But Mrs. Churm stuck to the task and eventually got us to the small business development office that’s run by the university extension, where an advisor explained in 30 minutes how to get started.
Shakespeare was a bright guy, and in Henry VI, he has Dick the Butcher say, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” But our advisor was a retired executive with his own office building, and he said, “First thing, let’s please all the lawyers,” which is probably easier to accomplish anyway. So we filled out the paperwork for incorporation at the county admin building, ran ads in the local papers to claim ownership, opened a separate bank account and applied for a small line of credit, and called our insurance agent.
“Tee hee,” he tittered. “You’re gonna run a what? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you good people already have jobs, don’t you? Oh, lordy, lordy.”
I also called a friend’s neighbor, whom I met last summer. He’s successfully run a pleasant 15-room inn, a mile below Snowshoe ski resort, through years with too little snow, years with too much snow, and years of off-seasons peopled only with bikers and members of corporate trust-building teams. He listened to me talk about the fun of new ventures.
“Are you prepared?” he said.
“Well, we’ve done everything we can think to do up front, and the rest we’ll have to pick up as we go along. I’m sure we’ll be up to the challenge, because we….”
“Are you prepared?” he said again, as calmly as the Nazi dentist in Marathon Man.
I collapsed. “No, we’re not ready at all,” I said. “How am I going to teach, and raise boys, and write a column and a blog and other articles and a new novel, and also make chitchat with strangers? No, we’re not ready, not ready at all,” I cried.
The phone sounded dead; I thought it had dropped the signal. Then: “Are you prepared?” he whispered.
Last night, after Mrs. Churm and I read to Starbuck and Wolfie and wiped red sauce off faces and brushed teeth and gave one kiss more to each, and sensed they’d stopped twitching in their beds and were deeply enough asleep to permit us to leave, we sat together, stunned at the realization we were indeed small business owners. We did a quick tally of what we’d spent so far just to set the stage. There’d been fees for incorporation, registration, and announcements. Better insurance for liability protection, a deposit to a new bank account, new checks, a newer version of tax software. Three books on business plans and growth.
The costs to come included plumbing, a little wiring, materials for framing out the new spaces and finishing them, paint, curtains, furniture, smoke detectors, bedding, a lot of new décor, a couple of café tables for our library room, and place settings. A student employee’s wages, part-time, if it came to that. Additional electricity, water, gas. A parking solution on our city street.
Mrs. Churm looked wonderfully professional using the eraser end of a pencil to tap on the engineering calculator I’ve had since I was going to be a structural engineer, then a landscape architect, then an English major, back in the ‘80s.
“So, how much do we have to charge to make a profit?” I asked.
Mrs. Churm crunched numbers and thought deeply and pushed the bangs up on her forehead. “Assuming we’re able to rent at least one of the two rooms, say, four times a week, and working in the costs of everything we’ve discussed, as well as advertising, cleanup and turnaround, a cup of free coffee in the morning, and a couple of mints on the pillow at night…we’ll break even if we charge guests a single-occupancy rate of…$383.49 per night.”
“So we’ll market ourselves to administrators,” I said. “Let’s get going.”
To be continued….