B&Bs in the D

In the shadow of Detroit's ever-increasing number of shiny glass hotel towers lives another animal all together — the small independent hotelier, the bed and breakfast, the boutique inn. Existing on the edge of viability, such establishments are carving a niche in a market that's on the verge of a boom.

Just a couple minutes from downtown, the independents are like an antidote to the — admittedly sumptuous — anonymity of the major chains and casino hotels. One suite at the Woodbridge Star boasts a copper soaking tub, big enough to fit two. An upstairs room at the Inn at 97 Winder features a sitting room-cum-loft overlooking the city. The expansive third floor of the 234 Winder Street Inn is more like a large apartment than a hotel suite.

Small establishments fill an important niche in Detroit's tourism market, says Jim Townsend of the Tourism and Economic Development Council.

"To be a real urban destination that's competitive with other major urban areas, we need to have a wide variety of lodging products, hotels, motels, inns and B&Bs," he says. "There's definitely a niche that's growing in Detroit for these kinds of bed and breakfast and small properties that offer people something unique. People travel to urban destinations to find things they can't find at home."

Star quality

That's what innkeepers like Stephen Tezyk and Alan Reid of the Woodbridge Star are counting on. Guests at the six-bedroom historic mansion on Trumbull Avenue, open as a B&B since 2001, are fed gourmet fare like the home-baked pastries that are Reid's specialty, and showered with what one visitor dubbed "unexpected pampering" — anything from a bouquet of fresh flowers and a decadent torte left in your room to a ride around town.

Each room at the Woodbridge Star is designed around a theme. A night's stay ranges from $125 to $175. The Billiards Room in the basement is — quelle surprise — the mansion's former pool room, decorated with the rich colors and clean lines of an English gentlemen's club. The Norman Rockwell Room is a slice of Americana, complete with flowered wallpaper and wrought iron bed.

The inns of Winder

In Brush Park, two inns sit a block apart on Winder Street.

Marilyn Yazbeck-Nash's Inn at 97 Winder has been open for two years. The 11,000-square-foot Victorian mansion is furnished with an eclectic mix of antiques and modern art.

Yazbeck-Nash and partner Ghassan Yazbeck owned the home for almost 15 years before they were able to secure the funding necessary for the full-scale restoration the property demanded. "We went all the way down to the bone," Yazbeck says.

The inn's 10 guest rooms don't have names or numbers, but are color-coded by tassels that adorn each guest's key and room. Rates range from $245 to $325 a night. Each room is beautifully detailed, with distinctive décor ranging from Asian chic to modern to a sort of updated Victorian splendor. Yazbeck-Nash is justifiably proud of her inn’s bathrooms – each features beautiful tile and state-of-the art shower facilities.

Down the street from Yazbeck-Nash is the 234 Winder Street Inn, owned by Mona Ross. Her eight-suite inn has also been in business for about two years, and rates range from $159 during the week to $229 on the weekend. The rambling mansion is spacious, with high ceilings and large rooms, many boasting two king-sized beds. The third floor suite has two bedrooms and a spacious living room, decorated with lively artwork.

The 'big' little guy

Compared to the 10-room-or-less bed and breakfasts, The Inn On Ferry Street seems like a colossus. With 40 rooms in four mansions and two carriages house, the boutique inn opened in 2001 after an $8.5 million renovation, says Susan Mosey, president of the University Cultural  Center Association, one of the organizations with a stake in the inn. 

Plans were in the works for years, prompted by a wide interest in the preservation of the buildings, then owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts, the need for a hotel in midtown and an interest in neighborhood economic development.

The project moved forward thanks to a lot of community and municipal support, Mosey says, including large stakes from philanthropic organizations and the DIA's donation of the four properties.

Each room is decorated in an elegant, distinctive style, with soft bedding and usable antiques. Other employees say Mosey is meticulous about upkeep of the rooms, and maintenance is always ongoing, from paint touch-ups to carpet cleaning.

With a year-to-date 75 percent occupancy rate, the inn is putting the downtown hotels to shame — industry estimates put average rates between 55 and 60 percent — but the inn's high costs and the competitively low rates, from $179 a night for a standard room to $269 for a three-room executive suite, means the establishment is far from a goldmine. "So far, there hasn't been much of a profit," Mosey says.

The Inn on Ferry Street isn't alone — Tezyk and Yazbeck-Nash both have day jobs, and Ross says she relies on her husband's income.  "We had one profitable year of $500 to $600," Tezyk jokes. "We're hoping to break four figures this year."

Part of the difficulty, he says, has been overcoming visitors' often-negative impressions of Detroit.  One guest, Tezyk says, was so shaken by her trip to the inn that she was desperate to find another place to stay. The guest's fears were eventually calmed, and she chose to remain at the Woodbridge Star. "How do you get over a bad reputation? You give them a good experience," Tezyk says.

All signs point to better days ahead, say the innkeepers — with downtown Detroit's landscape changing daily, more visitors are coming downtown than in recent years.

None of the innkeepers say they see the major hotel chains as competition. "It's a different experience," Reid says, adding that more traffic through downtown can only have positive impact on the smaller establishments.

"Every freeway exit route is going to have a pretty predictable set of hotel properties that serve an important function in the marketplace," the TEDC's Townsend says. "But that's not going to motivate people to come to Detroit, whereas a B&B can motivate people to come and tell their friends. They're really important to growing tourism in Detroit."

Nancy Kaffer is a contributor to Model D, and Innovation and Job News editor for metromode. She wrote about the upgrades to local hotels and the convention business in the city recently in Model D.

For more on the inns and B&Bs mentioned here, click below:


The Woodbridge Star

Alan Reid in the Dining Room of the Woodbridge Star

The Inn at 97 Winder

The 234 Winder Street Inn

The Inn on Ferry Homes

The Inn on Ferry

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

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