The year was 1980. President Reagan had started slashing money for social programs. A young idealistic couple – Nadine Silnutzer, who was working for the state in social work administration, and her husband, Carl Glassman, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in public policy from Rutgers and has had spent time at the Woodrow Wilson School in research and post graduate work – became disillusioned by what they saw. "People were getting fired left and right. All the social progress we had made in the 1960s and 1970s was getting cut back," says Glassman. Instead of trying to change the world with their jobs, they turned their focus to doing something that would allow them to live and work together.
Says Glassman: "What got us off our butts was our love of travel and people and our newfound interest in historic preservation. We fell in love with New Hope and Lambertville and decided to stay. We didn’t have kids yet. She drove a ’68 VW bug and I drove a ’71 bug. We figured if all else fails, we still have each other and we can always go back to work and start over. That was the extent of our business plan."
In 1981 they took the plunge and bought the 1870 Wedgwood House in New Hope and converted it into an antique-filled, eight-bedroom inn, the Wedgwood Bed & Breakfast. In 1985 they purchased the neighboring house, built in 1833, and converted it to a bed and breakfast, the Umpleby House. In 1990 they added a third inn to their holdings, a Victorian house just down the hill from the Wedgwood House. Built in 1873, it is named the Aaron Burr House because Burr is rumored to have hidden there after his historic duel with Alexander Hamilton. In fact, his ghost is said to still haunt its rooms.
In 1992, with three successful inns humming smoothly along, Glassman decided to share his expertise about the fine art of innkeeping by co-authoring a book, "How to Start and Run Your Own Bed and Breakfast Inn." Still hugely popular with aspiring innkeepers, it gives concrete advice about the details involved in attracting guests and keeping them happy.
The Glassmans have taken the idea of sharing their knowledge one step further with a series of seminars designed for aspiring innkeepers. The seminars take place on site in New Hope and are set up to allow individuals and couples to meet one another and to discuss their interests in being an innkeeper. The hands-on workshops are led by Carl and Nadine with other innkeepers who serve as guest lecturers – and who give participants a much-needed reality check: is owning an inn as fun and intriguing as the fantasy?
The Glassmans’ next seminar – one night and two days – takes place on Monday and Tuesday, November 7 and 8, and is limited to 14 participants. The cost is $275 per person, double occupancy; $499 for single, plus tax and gratuities and includes tuition, written materials plus accommodations, a home-baked breakfast, lunch and beverages, with refreshments at breaks. Call 215-862-2570 for more information.
April, 2006, marks the couple’s 25-year anniversary in the innkeeping business and Glassman says he has seen a huge boom in the industry. "The interest in innkeeping continues to soar as an alternate lifestyle business as well as a second or third career choice. The nature of innkeeping keeps it unique. It’s your business as well as your home. It’s a real estate investment as well as a way to support yourself as opposed to buying a coffeehouse or a bookstore."
Glassman says people attending the workshop will get the inside scoop on what it’s like to run an inn, including the upsides and downsides and everything in between. "You’re not living above the shop, you’re living in the shop. Some things people don’t consider, for example, is that there is very little separation between work and play. They tend to romanticize the business. But what they often forget is that you’re the first ones up and the last to sleep."
He observes that more than 90 percent of inns are run by couples and that also raises its own set of concerns. "That means that sometimes you’re mixing the boardroom with the bedroom. A lot of couples get along because they each have their cup of coffee at 6 a.m. and then don’t get back together until 9 p.m. I suggest to couples that if they have never remodeled the family room without a shouting match, you should reconsider going into innkeeping together because you’ll be together all the time. There are hundreds of questions and details you need to work together on. You have to have a high rating in compatibility."
Nadine, or Dinie as she called by both her family and guests, is a morning person, and is in charge of the day-to-day operation of the inn. She supervises the staff and menu and is in charge of interior decorating. Carl worked full-time at Mathematica, a social policy think tank in Princeton for the first two years they were open. But he still handled the business end, all the bookkeeping, accounting, marketing, and legal details. One of the reasons for their success as both a couple and business partners is that they have maintained that division of labor.
Glassman also believes that trust is essential to success, whether between siblings, lovers, or business partners. "We reciprocate with our trust. We consult with each other and respect each other’s decisions. Dinie would never think of sitting in on three quotes for health insurance, and I would never fight with her about where the chair should go or what color the room should be." The Glassmans now have three full-time innkeepers running each of their inns as well as other help to handle some of the daily logistics.
One of the revelations many people encounter, according to Glassman, is that it is more expensive to get into this business today than most people expect. Because it is real-estate based, it is not as simple as coming up with a month’s security and rent on Main Street USA. "A commercial real estate purchase involves 20 to 30 percent down payment. If you’re talking about a million dollar property, that down payment is significant, and often knocks people out of the box."
The Glassmans have an 11-year-old daughter, Jesse, a fifth grader who goes to school in New Hope. While many families live in a wing of their own inn, that’s not the way they wanted to raise their child. "The innkeeper usually lives in cramped quarters, in the least desirable part of the inn. We did not want to be hushing our child all the time or hushing her friends if they came over. We also wanted to experience the joys of raising a child without putting her under the pressure to perform for the guests." The Glassmans’ solution was simple. They bought the house next door, creating their own family nest in order to maintain their sense of privacy. "We walk our child across the street to school. We’re there when she comes home. We only work half time. We just choose which 12 hours to work. Our work makes us available to her during the day."
Glassman was born next to last in a family of five children. His mother was a registered nurse and a veteran of World War II who served in the women’s army corps as a nurse. His father was an independent photographer. He and Nadine met in Lambertville through mutual friends in 1977. They renovated a small 1860s rowhouse in Lambertville, which gave them the bug for antiquing. At one point they moved to New Hope and rented a home from the owners of the Logan Inn. "As we paid the rent, we got another insight into innkeeping. We’d been sleeping around, if you will, at different inns in New England and the Deep South, collecting and learning tricks of the trade. In 1981 Dinie took a job as the front desk manager at the only hotel in town."
He feels lucky that they got in on the ground floor of a brand new but exploding interest in quaint, historic inns. "When we started, there was no Route 1 corridor yet. There was one big hotel there, the Hyatt Regency. We were on a crest of a new wave of interest that was just sweeping the country and New Hope already had its own draw, but the inns in town were typically owned by older people. The bed and breakfast idea was intriguing."
Glassman observes that the rewards of innkeeping are constant: you get compliments on your skill with historic preservation, your design, your food, and hopefully your hospitality. But he says that what people tend to forget is that while the rewards are constant, so is the work. "People might think, hey, I work in this high-end firm, I commute three hours a day, and I’m not home until 8 or 9 o’clock so I can handle anything. But as an innkeeper you have no built-in downtime. You’re out in front of the public seven days a week. It’s nights and mornings and holidays and weekends. It’s like being an actor on the stage without the curtain ever closing."