Sure, Cape May and Ocean City bed-and-breakfast inns get all the attention — but how many are a few blocks away from a jitney stop?
Located outside the usual South Jersey hotspots for bed-and-breakfasts, a few B&Bs have established footholds in places where there is little other opportunity for room guests to enjoy the pleasures of a home-cooked meal, including Atlantic City, Ventnor and Cape May Court House — and at least one, in Avalon, is located where no other B&B can currently exist.
The Sea Lark Bed & Breakfast is, in fact, the only such establishment on the entire island, in either Avalon or Stone Harbor, owner John Oldham said.
“This is our 29th summer,” Oldham said. “We’re in a pretty nice location (on First Avenue), close to the center of town. We tell guests they can park their cars and walk to the beach.”
But that ideal location probably won’t be a magnet for competitors any time soon, he said.
“For one thing, we are in a residential area,” Oldham said. “Now, you need zoning permits for a business in a residential area. New bed-and-breakfast establishments would have to be in the commercial zone, along the business strip. So we’re a unique property.”
Another reason that more homes in popular, residential shore towns haven’t become bed-and-breakfasts: More traditional buildings are being torn down or transitioned into condos or contemporary homes.
The Colonnade Inn in Sea Isle City used to be a bed-and-breakfast, manager Nancy Bell said, but it was converted into a condo-hotel in 2004.
“We’re a very unique property,” Bell said of the 1883 structure, which became a bed-and-breakfast in the 1990s before its restoration. “But now we no longer have a kitchen, so there’s no place for us to cook.”
Bell said bed-and-breakfasts in other countries are located in all sorts of structures, new and old, “but here in America, you kind of have to have the right building to have a bed-and-breakfast. You’re not going to build a modern house and have it be a bed-and-breakfast.”
One reason that Cape May and Ocean City are packed with B&Bs, Bell said, “is because of the property available, big buildings built to become summer boarding houses. They still have that capacity and are quaint. There used to be more of those in Sea Isle, but a lot were torn down to become duplexes and single-family housing.”
One town that still has a large number of former boarding houses — but a lack of bed-and-breakfasts — is Ventnor, which has only two B&Bs.
Dianne and Stephen Wright turned their Ventnor Avenue home into a B&B nine years ago with a little help from the city, which had labeled much of what is now the up-and-coming neighborhood of North Beach as a redevelopment zone and discussed eminent domain seizures.
“They kind of said that people with a nice business going would be staying,” Stephen said. “So that encouraged us to open up a bed-and-breakfast inn.”
“We hadn’t ever been to a B&B,” Dianne said. “We started it as though it was the way we wanted to be treated if we were going to a B&B. … We worked as a team, and at the start it was a little scary. We had to add on a fire escape because we hadn’t needed them because it was a private home. But once we developed it, we opened our doors and had two rooms filled that night.”
Since then, they’ve been written about in magazines, had a Discovery Channel episode filmed at the inn and were visited by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
One perk of the inn? “The jitney bus stops just three blocks away,” Dianne said. “We tell all of our guests, ‘Just take the jitney.’”
A few blocks away on Atlantic Avenue, John Battista has operated the Carisbrooke Inn for 10 years.
“I think the area has cleaned up a little bit,” Battista said of North Beach. “There’s definitely a better supply of restaurants that opened up and stayed open for the last couple of years, as opposed to the first couple of years.”
Attracting a customer base has its challenges — “Honestly, we’re not in a heavy B&B market,” Battista said — but thanks to things such as online marketing, he said the Carisbrooke has developed a loyal following.
“Two prime things bring people to us,” he said. “In the summertime, it’s mostly beach people, people who have vacationed in Ventnor their whole lives, many from the Philadelphia area, and they find us because they’re looking for a place to vacation in Ventnor. … When I first came down here, one thing I noticed is that people are very territorial about their beaches and go to the same beaches their whole lives.”
In fall and spring, “and even in the wintertime,” Battista said, “Atlantic City brings 85 percent of our business. They announced the (Boardwalk Hall) Phish concerts a week ago and they went on sale a few days ago, and within 48 hours we booked up a third to half of our rooms.”
In Cape May Court House, the Doctor’s Inn welcomes a more diverse, professional clientele than many bed-and-breakfasts, due to its location near the courthouse and Cape Regional Medical Center.
“We do very well in the wintertime,” owner Lorraine Nicholas said. “We get a lot of lawyers and witnesses, (and) doctors stay over. It’s not what they’re used to. Lawyers and doctors are used to staying in Marriotts or big hotels — but they like it here.”
If professionals are at least aware of it, many locals aren’t.
“I can’t tell you how many local people who live within blocks of the inn ask, ‘Is that a restaurant?’” Nicholas joked. “It’s something different, a little out of the norm, but it’s really convenient location-wise.”
In Atlantic City, the decision to convert the Chelsea Pub and Inn to a B&B was made for a simple reason.
“Basically, there wasn’t one,” said pub manager Michelle Piazza. “And then the Chelsea Hotel was built, so they decided to switch.”
Changing from a hotel to a B&B “works to our benefit, because there really aren’t any (nearby),” Piazza said. “Plus we allow dogs, so that works out for us.”
In the end, how Piazza summed up the Chelsea could be applied to many B&B experiences.
“It’s an old building,” Piazza said. “And either you love it here or you don’t.”
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