By Ken Esten Cooke at the Fredericksburg Standard Post, Jan. 20, 2021
Items in the cozy B&B of Kevin and Lynn MacWithey are laid out on tables, ready for an auction house to liquidate. After 26 years of running one of Fredericksburg’s longest-standing, traditional bed-and-breakfast operations, the MacWitheys are retiring and have sold Das Garten Haus on South Washington Street. Their move points toward the end of an era, where the term “short-term rental” has replaced “bed and breakfast,” sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably. It’s a sign of the times when a new generation of renters fend for themselves for food, but still prefer a home over a hotel. The MacWitheys, who performed all of their cooking and cleaning, say they are retiring to spend more time with their five grandchildren and not have to be tethered to the operation. Their daughter lives in Waco and their son is a home builder in Houston.
“We have aged out of what’s most popular now,” Lynn said. “And that’s OK.”
“We’ve loved it,” Kevin said. “Today, people want a pool or a hot tub, and we just want to do other things. It’s just time.”
“We came here for tourism, so we have no objection to it, even though some old-timers have an issue with it,” Lynn said. The MacWitheys moved from the Dallas area in 1994, having visited many times in the 1980s and falling in love with Fredericksburg. They stayed at the Delforge Place (710 Ettie), a full-service B&B, owned by George and Betsy Delforge in the 1980s.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a fun thing to do?’” Lynn said, adding that they entertained frequently in Dallas. “We wanted to do the traditional B&B, which not many people do.”
Lynn was a lab supervisor and Kevin was a landscaping company owner. He continued his interest in gardening here, also operating Hill Country Landscaping and keeping an immaculate garden on his B&B property that constantly supplied fresh flowers for the guests.
In 1996, the B&B scene wasn’t as pervasive as it is now, with more than 800 units available for rent. Groups went in together with a party line for reservations and developed a website of its own. Over the years, they have received roughly 500 TripAdvisor reviews. The property has different units that are separate from the main house. And while guests joined them each morning for breakfast, it afforded the McWitheys the privacy needed to raise their own two children.
The couple says the home, a traditional style built in the late 1940s with lots of custom woodwork, has served them well. “We loved this home,” Kevin said. A realtor showed them the home, and they purchased it from the Ottmers family. “It worked for us. There was a lot of private space.”
As bookings ramped up, the MacWitheys used a personal touch, sending guests a list of recommended restaurants, letting guests know if they needed to make reservations or not. “The more information you give them, the less they’ll need,” Lynn said.
The couple loved the town, when their children could go to St. Mary’s, walk home along Main Street and get an ice cream, and then arrive home safely. Back then, we weren’t booked solid. Lynn worked for years in healthcare and Kevin operated his landscaping company, in addition to the B&B work. In 2000, as the winery industry began to grow beyond a handful of operations, the MacWitheys’ children entered their teen years and the B&B operation began to get busier. Kevin spent several years on the Fredericksburg City Council and the Convention and Visitor Bureau, so he witnessed the changes and saw a small town dealing with its growth.
Over the years, as internet reservations became the norm, they garnered more than 500 TripAdvisor ratings on their property from their website, and they reminisced fondly about all the guests who had come and gone. One couple has stayed at Das Garten Haus for 24 of their 26 wedding anniversaries. “The reason they stay in a traditional B&B is that they want the breakfast, but they enjoy the conversation and social aspect of it,” Lynn said. Kevin added that repeat visitors have become friends over the years. They have had Japanese visitors who spoke no English, but were wowed by Kevin’s flower garden and shared the universal language of smiles. They have had hurricane evacuees from the coast.
They purchased the home next door in 2014, which they will now reside in. With the STR count now at around 800, and around 1.5 million visitors per year, Fredericksburg remains the perfect place to operate an STR. Also, more people own second homes and can block out time for themselves, and rent it out the rest of the year. The new owners plan extensive renovations, then will do a VRBO rental operation, specializing in extended stays.
Today’s clients, they said, keep more to themselves and don’t expect meals. Still, the MacWitheys say a market exists for someone who wants to do a traditional “breakfast served” B&B.
“If someone wanted to open a traditional B&B here, I think there is a market for it,” Kevin said of offering the second-B breakfast.
Lynn added, “I don’t think people realize how difficult it can be to get into the restaurants (during heavy visitor days), if you notice the lines on a Saturday morning. That’s an unfortunate thing. When people bring their families, I think those poor children are having to wait.” Lynn also thinks the times are changing with a new generation. “The people who show up, I give them a ton of information, and when they check-in, they sometimes haven’t even looked at it,” she said. “They say ‘We’re going to wing it.’” Still, the couple enjoyed their time as B&B ambassadors for Fredericksburg. And it taught their children some business lessons and life skills.
“Both our kids know how to make beds, too,” Kevin said.
See the original article: https://www.fredericksburgstandard.com/news/end-era