Forty years ago, Alain and Celeste Borel used ingenuity and hard work to convert a “broken down Virginia farmhouse” into a first-class French country inn. That ingenuity, along with support from the Lord Fairfax SBDC, helped the Clark County innkeepers survive a pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, our inn shut down like everybody else,” Celeste says. About that time, Celeste received a call from Lord Fairfax SBDC Center Director Christine Kriz. “The SBDC had grant money to help small businesses with marketing and advertising,” Celeste recalls. “Christine contacted me to see if she could help. We accepted her offer and worked with the SBDC on several marketing projects.” The marketing strategy included a video and flyers. “We used flyers to get the word out,” Celeste explains. “Yes, we’re open, and we’re COVID safe!”
The innkeepers literally turned the tables to reassure guests. “We put tables from the restaurant in guest rooms so people would feel safe while enjoying our amenities,” Celeste relates. “We also put tables in the grass, on the terrace, and on the porch. We changed up the way we did things to make people feel comfortable.”
Pandemic challenges, Celeste notes, were reminiscent of the obstacles the couple faced 40 years ago, when they purchased what was then known as Mt. Airy. “There were ‘groundhog condominiums’ all over the place when we bought it,” she says, referring to the vast underground networks the vermin had created over the years. “Basically, the whole property was in need of loving care.” Undeterred by the many renovation challenges, the couple transformed Mt. Airy into an intimate, 11-room inn with dining space, featuring three- and five-course meals. The result was, as one reviewer described it, “a true French countryside experience right here in America.”
The many challenges and final success of Mt. Airy helped remind Alain and Celeste that all was not lost. Yet, closing the inn because of the pandemic was still difficult for them. Fortunately, that shutdown was short-lived. “We closed in March, but by June we were doing very well,” Celeste says. “Advertising a COVID-safe experience in the country brought guests back. We’re very appreciative of the SBDC’s help.”
In addition to marketing assistance, the SBDC offered tutorials on applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other government assistance. “The SBDC kept us informed on how to weave our way through all the US Small Business Administration requirements,” Celeste notes.
Celeste continues to value her SBDC connections. “The SBDC knows people, and if you need a project done, they will connect you,” she says. “I think that’s very valuable.”
That value was apparent in the inn’s year-end financial report. “By the end of the COVID year in 2020, we recovered more than we made the previous year,” Celeste concludes. “The SBDC definitely helped make that happen.”