By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
The Queen. Photo: Provided.
Part of Bellefonte’s draws for visitors are the unique lodging opportunities available at local bed and breakfasts. Owning and operating a B&B requires hard work and commitment, plus a passion for people and hospitality. Three Bellefonte B&B proprietors share how they have continued to thrive amid changes and challenges in the hospitality industry and why business is now better than ever.
Nancy Noll purchased The Queen approximately 50 years ago and, at the time, it was anything but the elegant manse that stands today at 176 E. Linn Street.
“It lacked heating and steps and the rooms were all chopped up. They wanted to turn it into an apartment house,” said Noll. Fortunately, that never happened. “The borough designated an eight-block area, on which the Queen sits, a historical landmark,” she added, noting that her house is now listed on the National Register.
Noll explained that she didn’t set out to become a B&B proprietor. “We wanted to flip it and sell it, then buy land in the country so we could be hippies,” she said, with a chuckle, referring to herself and her former husband. Noll didn’t end up a hippie, nor did she move. Instead, she warmed to the idea of a B&B when a neighboring B&B passed their overflow customers on to her. From there, she tackled transforming each of the rooms, one by one.
“This is a fabulous area in which to live, with so much going on."
Noll has seen the B&B business change significantly over the last five decades. “When I started, there was no internet. I recorded everything in a loose-leaf notebook, which once caught on fire,” she said. Eventually came brochures to get the word out, then, of course, the internet.
As for challenges, she said that she’s always been lucky to have a loyal staff and the pandemic was a mere bump in the road for The Queen.
“After a brief shutdown, we began checking guests in virtually and then bringing a tray of breakfast to their doors,” said Noll, who is thankful that things are now essentially back to normal. “I was relieved when we could do breakfast in the common areas again, because it was no fun not being able to meet my guests.” At the same time, Noll spaces people out, keeping them six-eight feet apart for her guests’ comfort.
Noll said she must be doing something right because The Queen has a 30% return rate. She also credits Happy Valley and Bellefonte. “This is a fabulous area in which to live, with so much going on,” she said.
Our Fair Lady, owned by Bob and Tamara Schuster, has been in operation for 15 years.
“We purchased the home as a retirement plan and moved from Virginia to be closer to the in-laws,” said Tamara, adding that they didn’t arrive upon the decision lightly. “We looked at 23 different places before we settled at 313 E. Linn Street.” The house dates back to 1883 and was originally owned by a lumber baron.
One of the first things the Schusters did after moving in was attempt to approximate the exterior with historically accurate paint. “My daughter is an interior design architect and she helped us do the research. When the paint was scraped down to the first layers, we found out that we nailed it,” said Tamara.
Our Fair Lady. Photo: Provided.
Like Noll at The Queen, the Schusters tackled each of the five rooms and the cottage one at a time. Tamara and her husband now live on the second floor of the B&B.
Early on, the Schusters learned the ropes thanks to the help of the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and the Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce. “They gave us a lot of guidance,” she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a challenging time. They responded by taking precautions to help their guests feel safe, from installing special air purifiers with UV lights in the common rooms and the stairwell, to purchasing special UV lights that they place in rooms after guests leave.
“It was a tough time, but we ended up hosting more weddings to help us recover and now we are doing better than ever,” said Tamara, stating that she also received some good news during that trying time. “My daughter and her family lived in Charlotte and when they stayed with us during the pandemic, they fell in love with Bellefonte, so now they live near us. This inspired my son and his family to move here, too.”
What the Schusters enjoy most are the return guests. “Some of them have stayed 30 times and they become just like family. You truly become friends with your guests,” Tamara said.
“It was a tough time, but we ended up hosting more weddings to help us recover and now we are doing better than ever."
Even a passionate host needs a break every once in a while. Tamara said that she’s done research and discovered that the average lifespan of a B&B is seven to eight years due to host burnout, so she makes a point to close for vacation two weeks out of the year to keep her passion for the business going.
The Reynolds Mansion, located at 101 W. Linn Street, was built in 1885 by a wealthy banker who lived there for about eight years before he died. “He was a 72-year-old bachelor at the time,” said Tricia Andriaccio, who runs the business with her husband Mike.
The mansion was turned into a B&B in the mid-1990s and the Andriaccios purchased it in 2010. The mansion is comprised of eight guest rooms and two luxury suites.
Tricia said that they may not have had to renovate as extensively as Noll and the Schusters, but there was a challenge making it their own. “The previous owners did an outstanding job, but we wanted to not only renovate and decorate, but create our own atmosphere for the guests. Since our first year, we have turned the mansion into a high-end boutique hotel-type property, but with a very personal feel,” she said.
Reynolds Mansion. Photo: Provided.
The pandemic was also rough on the Andriaccios. “We were allowed to stay open as an essential business, but we didn’t have any guests for about four to five months. Not only did the people who had reservations cancel, but they asked for their deposits back, so we applied for every grant and loan that was available,” said Tricia.
What touched the couple the most, however, were the regulars, who purchased gift certificates for themselves for future stays. “Every time the phone rang and someone did that, we cried. It was the most amazing takeaway for us that our guests, who are now our friends, actually all cared about us,” Tricia said.
Now their business is better than it was pre-pandemic. “We think that people are more apt to stay in a smaller property now than in a large hotel,” said Tricia.
One thing that all three owners agree on is that they don’t view each other as competition, but as colleagues who work together. The Andriaccios, who hail from Long Island, said what they love about the area is its tight-knit community feel, the beautiful architecture, the park and the business owners.
“It’s an ideal location and every year there’s another 20,000 alumni who want to come back and visit … We love our little town and we always hope that our guests will enjoy it as much as we do.”
The Schusters said they like that Bellefonte offers an array of activities. “You can go biking, hiking, kayaking and fishing, or spend time in beautiful Talleyrand Park, visit restaurants, breweries, distilleries, wineries and cideries,” they said.
Noll noted that the area will host three rock concerts in the next few months and that Penn State is just 10 minutes away: “It’s an ideal location and every year there’s another 20,000 alumni who want to come back and visit … We love our little town and we always hope that our guests will enjoy it as much as we do.”