Westside B&B owners making a neighborly move

Sallie and Welling Clark are expanding their popular westside B&B.

Room at the Inn: Sallie and Welling Clark are expanding their popular westside B&B.

After 25 years of sharing their home with thousands of guests from around the world, Sallie and Welling Clark are about to move into a space of their own.

But, the owners of the Holden House Bed and Breakfast Inn near the Old Colorado City district are not going far.

In 2009, the couple bought a third home just behind their famed Victorian bed and breakfast, which is comprised of two houses and a carriage house. They leveled the third home and rebuilt it.

But, this time, instead of opening their newest property to B&B travelers, they are keeping it all to themselves.

“I don’t see it as moving out,” said Sallie Clark. “We are relocating next door so that we have a little more separation from our guests.”

That’s the thing about owning a B&B — you always have company.

But, it’s that cozy, family-feel where breakfast is served around the kitchen table and guests have run of the house that entices 50 million travelers across the country to seek out B&Bs each year making it a $1 billion industry.

Just weeks before the summer travel season kicks off, typically Memorial Day weekend, the couple will celebrate their silver anniversary in the B&B business.

When they bought the Holden House in 1985, it was a private residence and needed a lot of work. But, they had been among those who call themselves B&B travelers and loved the concept.

“We loved the fact that when you go to a B&B you have someone to ask ‘where do I go to dinner?’ and they will point you to unique places,” Sallie Clark said.

They knew from the start that the B&B would not make them rich or be their sole income. They have five suites and charge $145 to $150 a night.

“You do it more for the lifestyle,” Sallie Clark said. “I always joke that over 25 years I’ve made a million dollars, but, I’ve spent a million too.”

Sallie Clark is an El Paso County Commissioner, District 3, and Welling Clark is an engineer with ITT. Still, the Holden House, named for the original owner Isable Holden, is their home. It’s their family photos that line the stairwell and their family heirlooms that decorate the kitchen and living room area.

In Colorado, B&Bs make up about 12 percent of the state’s lodging establishments, but because they are small — usually less than 10 rooms — they make up only 2 percent of the available rooms.

For that reason, Sallie and Welling Clark launched the Colorado Bed and Breakfast Association in 1987 as a way for the little inns to stick together, to market themselves as an industry and to speak with one voice to city and county lawmakers about such things as licenses, regulation, zoning and permits.

The Pikes Peak region has the highest concentration of the B&Bs in the state, Sallie Clark said. And, that makes them “friendly rivals.”

“If you added us up, we are the size of a 200-room hotel,” she said. “We really do generate a lot of income and a lot of jobs for the lodging industry.”

Holden House, which has five employees, typically expects to see about $120,000 in annual revenue. Recent years have been tough for the lodging industry and no one can predict how this summer’s travel will be affected by the rising fuel prices.

Wave Dreher, AAA Colorado spokeswoman, said AAA is conducting its annual summer travel survey, expected to be released in mid-May. The last time gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon, which was the summer of 2008, there was a 9 percent decrease in travel in Colorado, she said.

But, B&Bs may still do well from regional travel, Dreher said. Colorado, Wyoming and Utah have the lowest fuel prices in the country. From Denver to Colorado Springs, it will cost a traveler $6 more per round trip than last summer, she said. So, local vacations might be the way to go.

Already, the majority of winter guests at the Holden House are in state travelers, Sallie Clark said. That trend could continue through this summer. But, the biggest change in the industry, she said, is that bookings are more unpredictable, as people wait until the last minute to book rooms. Travelers are price shopping and not staying as long as they did in years past. In recent years, the Holden House has catered to business travelers, adding a business work station and Internet access, in attempt to fill their vacant rooms.

“When we first stated there wasn’t an Internet,” Sallie Clark said. “We were dependent on B&B guidebooks, print media and word of mouth. Now, the web has opened a new world, but at the same time the competition has gotten steeper.”

Still, owning a B&B is among the most envied professions, Sallie Clark said. It also is one of the most challenging, as the B&B innkeeper is also the director of maintenance, the cook, head dishwasher, the cleaning staff and the grocery buyer.

“You see this beautiful house with a nice veranda and imagine yourself sitting there having tea and chatting with guests,” Sallie Clark said. “The bigger part is having to make it all perfect. You have to focus on realizing it is day in and day out.”

The Clarks consult aspiring B&B owners and let them know that once you open your home to guests, there are few breaks. But, the couple couldn’t imagine life without the constant interruptions, the breakfast chats, or the afternoon wine tasting with their guests.

“I think the fact that we are working on our own private space is a nice refresher for us,” Sallie Clark said. “It will allow us to look at things from a different perspective — I’m looking forward to having private dinner parties at my house.”

But, if you need them, they’ll be right next door.