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Charming trend

At least 15 bed-and-breakfasts dot the area, with half a dozen recent arrivals. All compete with hotels and depend on the Internet.

By SHARON BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Bed-and-breakfast inns are becoming an industry in South Pinellas, filled by vacationers, tourists and business travelers. Half a dozen have opened in the past three years, and the owners believe this area can become a bed-and-breakfast destination spot.

It is not a business to jump into casually. It takes a lot of time, energy and money, plus an adjustable personality.

"Basically we work 18-hour days," said Dave Kelly, who with his wife, Sandy, owns the Bayboro House B&B Inc. at 1719 Beach Drive SE. Last year they bought the inn that has operated as a B&B since 1982. They paid in the $800,000's for it, Kelly said, and are doing renovations in an effort to raise their AAA three-diamond rating.

"If people are not here, we are trying to catch up," Kelly said of the workload. They do the laundry and keep up the grounds, which the previous owner paid others to do.

The Kellys took over Bayboro House in September. They live at the inn, which was built as a house in 1907 and overlooks Tampa Bay. It has five rooms. The property also includes a carriage house and a private cottage. Rates range from $125 to $249 a night.

The Professional Association of Innkeepers International defines a bed-and-breakfast as a former home where a proprietor lives and offers four to five rooms to guests. A bed-and-breakfast inn is larger, between four and 20 rooms and often includes a home for the owner. Breakfast is the only meal offered in these establishments, though many offer wine and cheese in the evenings and keep a refrigerator in the common areas stocked with snacks and soft drinks.

Florida has between 300 and 350 bed-and-breakfast establishments, according to Lois Cleveland, executive director of Florida Bed & Breakfast Inns.

"The business has been growing for years," Cleveland said. "Nationwide it has become a very appealing second career for people. The population traveling to them has grown tremendously."

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce lists 15 bed-and-breakfasts in the area.

Running a bed-and-breakfast was not a dream of Patty Burke's, even though she and her husband, Lawrence, had stayed in many of them. Lawrence Burke bought a 1923 house at 5701 Shore Blvd. in Gulfport for $145,000. The property overlooks Boca Ciega Bay.

"I didn't know what was in his head. He didn't either," said Patty Burke, who has worked as a contractor. When Lawrence Burke, who is a contractor also, asked her what could be done with the house, she said she thought it would make a great B&B.

The first customer arrived at Sea Breeze Manor on Nov. 8, 1997, after serious renovation and a year of twice-a-week auctions, where Patty Burke bought antique furnishings for the seven suites. The Burkes added 1,000 square feet to the house, raised the roof, changed the entrance, and built a grand staircase and a large porch on the bay side. Patty Burke declined to say how much was spent on the renovation. Rates range from $99 to $150 per night.

Patty Burke manages the Sea Breeze with Karen Kelley. Each gets one day off during the week. "The profit is our salaries," Burke said.

The bed-and-breakfast will close Aug. 15 for a month. "It gives the buildings a rest," Burke said. The two managers need a rest, too. "We've been going every day for almost three years."

Bob and Martha Bruce created the six-room Sunset Bay Inn out of the home where Martha Bruce grew up, at 635 Bay St. NE in St. Petersburg. Her family sold the house in 1967, but the Bruces bought it back in 1996.

They paid $220,000 for the house, which was a mess. They decided to start a bed-and-breakfast that Bob Bruce would manage while Martha Bruce kept her job. It took all of 1997 and $250,000 to renovate and furnish the house. Bob Bruce said they used a Small Business Administration loan. They live at the inn. Rates range from $140 to $240.

The Sunset Bay Inn carries a AAA four-diamond rating of approval. That award comes from the Bruces' determination to offer only the best, Bob Bruce said, from mattresses to room decoration to food. The Sunset even has a water purification system.

"We have an obligation to guests and the industry to provide guests with the best possible stay," Bruce said. "If they come here and they are not happy, they are not going to stay in another bed-and-breakfast."

Their happiness can be affected by the innkeeper's personality. Most B&Bs are run by proprietors who love to be around people and enjoy sharing breakfast with them or a social hour in the evenings.

"I think people are hungry for some kind of human contact, even if they don't join in," said Pat Bishop, owner of Pasa Tiempo Bed & Breakfast, at 7141 Bay St. in St. Pete Beach.

"You learn to judge people," Bishop said. "Some people really want you to spend time with them. Others just want to be by themselves."

Bishop created her B&B from a small apartment building that she bought in 1984. It has been an inn for 21/2 years. She would not disclose the cost of renovating the building into eight suites, some of which overlook Boca Ciega Bay. Rates range from $100 to $150 a night.

Bishop said she refers overflow guests to the Sea Breeze Manor in Gulfport, and the managers there send her guests when they are full.

Local innkeepers say they don't consider each other competition. In fact, the more bed-and-breakfasts, the better. All compete with the hotels. Kelly, of the Bayboro House, thinks the area inns should form an association to keep standards high and solidify the industry.

The Internet is proving to be the best advertising for bed-and-breakfast inns, several owners said.

"Web sites are starting to take over," said Kelly. "In this day and age, you are dead without it."

Burke said 80 percent of the business she gets at Sea Breeze Manor comes from the Internet. Her inn is on four sites, including wedding pages.

The first year Pasa Tiempo was open, 60 percent of the business came from word of mouth, Bishop said. "This year the Internet took over."

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