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B&Bs suffer losses, but most are back — busier than ever

After Hurricane Katrina swept through the Mississippi Gulf Coast August 29, the storm surge took along with it some of the Magnolia State’s most charming and longstanding inns.

Green Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Biloxi, a Greek Revival raised cottage built circa 1826 by wealthy New Orleans planters as a summer beach house, was destroyed. Harbour Oaks Inn in Pass Christian closed as a result of the category four storm, in which innkeeper Tony Brugger lost his life.

The Father Ryan House Bed & Breakfast Inn, built in 1841, was also destroyed, yet ironically, the famous palm tree that grew through the front steps remained intact.

“I walk toward the beach, past the centuries-old oak that has overhung my family’s cemetery lot for generations … ahead of me is one of my favorite historic houses in Biloxi, the Father Ryan House, named after former resident Abram Ryan, the so-called poet-priest of the Confederacy,” wrote Annalyn Swan of Newsweek October 3. “Hurricane Katrina has reduced it to rubble. As far as I can see, nothing remains but the twisted shells of the stately, pillared houses that date back a century or more. We survivors of 1969’s Hurricane Camille — with winds of more than 200 miles per hour — thought we’d never see such devastation again. This is worse.”

Fortunately, B&Bs closest to the gulf waters that survived the storm surge include Red Creek Inn, an 1899 three-story, raised French cottage in Long Beach; Moss Point Oaks B&B, the second oldest surviving dwelling in Moss Point; the 95-year-old Acorn Cottages at Centennial Oak in Ocean Springs; Oak Shade B&B, which saw its neighboring homes destroyed or flooded, in Ocean Springs; and The Blue Rose Inn & Restaurant, an antebellum home in Pass Christian.

“Most of the B&Bs in the Gulf Coast area are very busy,” said Loren Ouart, president of the Bed & Breakfast Association of Mississippi (BBAM), one of 30 state innkeeper associations of Bed & Breakfast Inns Online (BBOnline). “The ones that survived are up and running. A couple of them look rough on the outside because they did inside work first to get back open.”

Busy first quarter

In the first quarter of 2006, BBAM members reported an increase of 73% over 2004 and 48% from 2005, said Ouart. Many B&Bs in the Capital/River (Jackson, Raymond, Lorman, Vicksburg, Port Gibson, Natchez and Brookhaven) and Coastal Mississippi (Columbia, Gulfport, Laurel, Moss Point, Ocean Springs, Poplarville and Wiggins) markets have housed displaced families and federal and state officials. But tourists, including an interesting subgroup, represent the lion’s share of B&B activity statewide.

“Our guests come from all walks of life and all age groups,” said Ouart, innkeeper of The Bernheimer House in Port Gibson, a 1901 Queen Anne listed on the National Register of History Places. “One growing group is single women. A local woman told me, ‘This is something a single lady can go to by herself and have a good time.’ This month, we had a group of five women and two individual ladies make reservations. One of the groups has made a reservation for July to bring four other ladies. We put individuals and couples together to make up larger tables.”

Keeping it unique

B&B innkeepers are also having success with unique offerings, such as The Bernheimer House’s famous murder mystery dinners. “Our June dinner attracted people from as far away as Pensacola, Dallas and small towns in between,” said Ouart. “We were very pleased.”

Most B&B operators primarily use the Internet for advertising. BBOnline, for example, allows innkeepers to be included, where applicable, in special category directories: Inns on a Shoreline; Inns on the National Register of Historic Places; Inns with Accommodations for Horses; Inns that are Kid Friendly; and Inns where Pets are Welcome.

“Since Katrina, the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area has provided a source of both dinner and overnight guests,” said Ouart. “The www.visitmississippi.org events page has also brought several guests. I was surprised by how many guests say they found us there. Country Roads has been a good marketing tool. I also print my own rack cards and pass them out. But word of mouth is still the main source.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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