Economy Forces Aberdeen Inn to Close
Kenneth and Betsy Higgins recently drove from Raleigh to the Inn at the Bryant House in downtown Aberdeen to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary.
"We've been using the inn as our getaway since the kids came of age," Betsy Higgins said Sunday.
Little did the couple know that they would be setting a milestone with their latest visit - the final overnight guests under the ownership of Shirley Starkey; her daughter, Ashley Baker; and Ashley's husband, Matt.
"We'd love to see this family keep it open," Betsy Higgins said after enjoying a Memorial Day dinner on the inn's spacious front porch. "It's a landmark, and it should be preserved. We're not happy that it's closing."
The dinner featured plenty of good food, reminiscing, smiles, laughter and a few melancholy moments.
"This house has given us the opportunity to entertain people from all walks of life," Starkey said. "There have been so many great stories exchanged and too many small-world coincidences to count. We'll always have that history, and this is the greatest front porch in the world.
"We've always enjoyed having a diverse group of people out here on the porch."
Tammy Holroye sat nearby, telling those gathered around the table how she and her husband, Dave, came to rent the cottage. She also gushed at every opportunity about the hospitality provided by Starkey and the Bakers.
"These guys are like family," Tammy said.
Dave Holroye lived in the inn from February 2010 to May 2010 while setting up a new manufacturing plant in Hoke County. He then lived in the carriage house until Tammy joined him last July.
"I've slept in every room on the property," Dave said. "You won't find nicer people anywhere. They have welcomed me with open arms from day one."
Ashley Baker said the feeling is mutual.
"I love our guests," she said. "We've met so many amazing, interesting people. We've never had anything stolen. We've never felt unsafe. We've never had a bad guest."
The main house, a red brick mansion built in the Southern Colonial Revival style in the early 1900s, has eight guest rooms, a library with more than 1,000 volumes, a piano for those inclined to play and a front porch unrivaled in the area.
"Truthfully, I hope someone wants to come and buy it," Ashley said. "We want someone to love it as much as we do."
Starkey said the decision to close was "tough" because of the financial and emotional investment her family has made in the past four years.
"We were optimistic, despite the economy," she said. "We felt that things would get better if we could just hold on."
Even though occupancy and revenue have increased every year since they purchased the property in May 2007, rising operating costs forced Starkey and the Bakers to miss a recent payment on their commercial loan, and the bank called in the note.
"The bank forced our hand," Starkey said. "We reluctantly decided to close our dearly loved inn. All we can do is move forward. We all have to continue to give more than we take. If everybody did that, we'd have a completely different world.
"You will see us out and about in our wonderful community."
Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the Pinehurst-Southern Pines-Aberdeen Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said bed-and-breakfast inns don't have the marketing muscle or the economies-of-scale advantages enjoyed by the national chains.
"It's a tough business," Miles said.
But he added that losing the only lodging facility in downtown Aberdeen wasn't as important as losing its owners.
"It's not like they didn't put a tremendous amount of effort into making the inn succeed," Miles said. "They worked hard to incorporate local activities and events to spur on new visitors and new business. They were very unselfish in that they viewed their business as part of a bigger cause."
Matt Baker agreed, saying, "We're proud of what we've done here. We're happy to still be in the community."
He will continue managing the NC Self Storage in Southern Pines. Ashley recently got a job with Communities in Schools, and Starkey will keep her day job as a real estate agent.
"The B&B enabled us to live and work together as a family," Ashley said. "We will miss it, but we're looking forward to living our next dream."
Miles hopes a new owner can be found that will treat the property the way Starkey and the Bakers did.
"For the sake of Aberdeen, the Moore County tourism industry and visitors, it would be great to see the inn operate again as a lodging option," Miles said. "A lot of very, very satisfied visitors have come to Moore County and enjoyed the hospitality provided by inn owners over the years."
The most recent - Kenneth and Betsy Higgins - left on Monday.
Who will be the next?
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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