scoopGreat Inns

Wooster's Market Street Inn is a dream realized for couple

Published: Sunday, August 29, 2010, 6:34 AM

Susan Glaser, The Plain Dealer

WOOSTER, Ohio -- Don't get emotional, she told herself when she first stepped inside the elegant Victorian mansion on Market Street in Wooster.

Yet Jayne Churchmack couldn't help herself: "This is the place we've always dreamed of."

Eight months later, she and her husband, Allan, threw open the doors on that dream and welcomed their first overnight guests to the Market Street Inn.

"It was our goal to open a bed-and-breakfast by the time we hit 50," said Churchmack, who, with Allan, turned 48 this year.

The former Clevelanders relocated to Wooster in January after buying the sprawling 6,500-square-foot century home, built in 1897 by the president of the Wooster Brush Co. In recent years, the house has been used as a parsonage by a nearby Lutheran church, was turned into a law office and, for the
past 10 years, operated as a bed-and-breakfast under two separate owners.

When the Churchmacks bought it, the ornate building -- with stunning natural woodwork, intricate plaster detail and
show-stopping stained-glass windows -- was in solid shape but in need of some TLC. The couple repaired several holes
in the entry-hall walls, replaced the front porch floor, painted the exterior, redecorated several bedrooms and spruced
up the landscaping.

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Then, in April, they were ready.

Making things memorable for guests

The Churchmacks had several months under their belts when I visited with my husband this summer. You'd never know they were novices. The couple have traveled extensively over the years, frequently staying in bed-and-breakfasts and accumulating a long list of do's and don'ts for their venture.

Do: Provide coffee and tea service to guests before breakfast and have freshly baked chocolate chip cookies available
in the afternoon.

Do: Invest in high-quality bed linens. The Churchmacks even hired a local teen to iron the linens once a week -- "so it's not like you're sleeping in your own bed," said Jayne. "You can sleep in balled-up linens at home."

Do: Pay attention to guest behavior to find out how much interaction they want with their hosts. "The people who want their privacy don't hang out in the common areas," said Jayne. "If you're paying attention, you can pick up on their clues."

Don't: Give guests a list of house rules upon arrival (as in, don't use the linens to wipe off makeup, don't put paper towels in the toilet, etc.) "What a turnoff," said Allan.

One more major do: Make the food memorable, an area where the Market Street Inn unquestionably succeeds. On the morning menu during my visit: a starter of yogurt, fresh fruit and homemade granola; freshly baked white chocolate-and-raspberry scones; and, for the main course, slices of ham formed to the shape of a small bowl, filled with baked eggs, accompanied by asparagus and English muffins.

After such a feast, I would have loved to go back to bed (and those high-thread-count linens). Yet I somehow mustered the energy to do a little window shopping in downtown Wooster before hitting the road for my final destination in
suburban Columbus.

The academics of finding a location

The Churchmacks chose Wooster for a reason. The couple's two children graduated from Ohio University, and the Churchmacks' frequent trips to Athens made them keenly aware of the need for nice places for parents (and others) to stay in college towns.

The 2,000-student College of Wooster brings a steady stream of visiting families through town, and it also hosts the popular seven-week Ohio Light Opera series every summer. The city also is home to Ohio State University's Agricultural Technical Institute and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Wooster is halfway between Cleveland and Columbus and just minutes from the heart of the world's largest Amish community, in southern Wayne, Holmes and surrounding counties. And downtown Wooster is a draw in itself, a quaint square with a dozen or so interesting stores to poke around in. And, says Jayne: "There are amazing restaurants here. People who go to bed-and-breakfasts want good restaurants nearby."

Though neither of the Churchmacks had much direct experience in the hospitality industry before buying the inn, Jayne retired last year after two decades with the Cleveland Indians, where she worked most recently as vice president of merchandising and food-and-beverage service.

Pampering hard-to-please overnight guests isn't all that different from dealing with disappointed baseball fans, she said. "You really need to understand how to service the guest and pay attention to detail. They need a good experience regardless of the outcome of the game."

Between the time she left her job with the Indians and before they moved to Wooster, Jayne earned a pastry-chef certificate at Loretta Paganini's International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute in Geauga County. Then she did a brief internship at Lucky's Cafe in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, where she worked as both a waitress and cook, and where she came to appreciate the importance of time management in the kitchen.

The original plan was for both Jayne and Allan to retire from their jobs to run the inn, but then economic reality set in. So Allan continues to make the daily drive from Wooster to Walton Hills, where he is general counsel for Arhaus Furniture.

On weekends, the couple work together welcoming guests, cleaning rooms, preparing and serving breakfast. On weekdays, which are typically slower, Jayne handles most of the tasks herself. Anyone who has an overly romantic ideal of what owning an inn is like should spend a day in the Churchmacks' shoes. It's not all greeting guests and socializing around the breakfast table. "You're cleaning toilets and doing other people's laundry," said Allan. The couple did extensive research on inn ownership before they even started looking for a place. So they largely knew what to expect.

Most fail, they acknowledge. And indeed, two previous inns in their location were unsuccessful. Still, they're convinced they'll be different. To set themselves apart, they rent out a back room in the house to a local massage therapist, who can provide on-site spa treatments to guests. They also lease a third-floor apartment for long-term stays. And they're working hard to connect with the local business community and get the word out about their place.

So far, so good. The inn had a 60 percent occupancy rate in July, compared with a 43 percent average for bed-and-breakfasts nationally.

Still, said Jayne, "If we go a day or two without a reservation, I get nervous."

Nervous, perhaps, but without regrets.

There's nothing better than clearing off the breakfast table in the morning and seeing nothing but clean plates, she said.

Even in the short time they've been open, the couple have welcomed guests from all over the world, and from right down the street -- from a doctor from England to a local couple celebrating a special anniversary.

"And they're all staying at our house," said Allan.

Photos courtesy of Tim Smith