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B&B OWNERS ARE ALWAYS ON CALL

No matter how hospitable and cheerful the owners and operators of bed-and-breakfast inns may seem, they may be in dire need of a vacation designed for rest and regeneration.

That fact comes quickly to mind when a friend or acquaintance tells me how much fun they think it would be to open a B&B after retirement. They always find stays in B&Bs so relaxing, they say -- reading a paperback out on the front porch swing, strolling around a tourist town's shops and galleries, or heading to a nearby beach. They love the antiques in their favorite inn's decor and those delicious breakfasts, especially when they are served outdoors.

Because I count several innkeepers as friends, I understand that their lives were anything but relaxed. Running a B&B full-time is often one of the last jobs in the world appropriate for anyone hoping to wind down after retirement.

You may, of course, have the energy to follow through on a dream of owning and operating an inn. These days, as compared to a decade ago, there are courses you can take plus follow-up apprenticeships that will prepare you.

And even if you decide against entering the hospitality industry full-time, you can consider becoming an inn sitter -- individuals and couples who take over for an owner or operator who needs a vacation, or must be away for other reasons -- with pay in the range of $100 to $300 per day.

Buying and running a B&B inn requires a large investment of money, time, effort and expertise. Still, the number of bed-and-breakfast and country inns throughout the country has grown to an estimated 20,000. The Professional Association of Innkeepers International defines a B&B as both a home for its owners and a lodging establishment that serves breakfast to guests. It meets all health, tax, building and other requirements. A country inn, on the other hand, has all the same characteristics of a B&B but also serves dinner to overnight guests or has a restaurant open to the general public.

A PAII study shows that the average price of an existing bed-and-breakfast in 2002 was $654,000. The average cost of adding a sleeping room with bath cost close to $50,000 per unit (these days, 95 percent of B&B rooms have a private bath). The average price of a country inn was $1.1 million.

Operating an inn means you're on call as a gracious, problem-solving host 2 4/7 . You need be able to quickly take care of needed household repairs. You must be a seat-of-the-pants psychologist to determine whether a guest prefers to socialize or wants privacy, and in case of squabbling spouses or other problems. You need marketing skills, offering your services on a Web site, by mail, in person and through tourism and professional organizations.

It helps if you know something about gardening, but you must be a very good cook who doesn't mind getting started early in the morning. You need to be good with children and pets if they're welcomed to your inn, or soothing to parents and pet owners as you refer them to another establishment.

You'll deal with insurance, zoning, labor law, health codes, credit card operations, interior decorating and accounting. An aptitude for housekeeping is essential, since guests dislike cobwebs and dust balls. Overall, you need to be highly organized.

At first, this list of skills and personality traits might seem intimidating. A closer analysis, though, shows that many of us approaching retirement have developed the required capabilities over our years at work, raising kids, tending to a house or apartment and volunteering. We've also traveled, and know the services and amenities that please guests.

So the idea of operating a B&B or inn-sitting isn't so farfetched.

The PAII offers a free Aspiring Innkeeper Kit to help you decide if you want to try it out. The organization also has developed a Master Innkeeping program that offers books, workshops, seminars and apprenticeships to get you going.

The Professional Association of Innkeepers is at 16 S. Haddon Ave., Haddonfield, N.J. 08033; call (856) 354-0030 or check its Web site at www.paii.org.

Any number of consultants in the B&B inn industry also offer training. These including Inn Caring, 3107 W. Colorado Ave., No. 286, Colorado Springs, CO 80904; (719) 685-3565; www.inncaring.com. Also Contract InnKeeping Service, 5220 E. Egger Road, Salem, Indiana 47161; call (812) 883-5807 or check www.insitter.bigstep.com/generic14.html.

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