GALENA, Ill. — Carol Gebelt wakes up every day at 6:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast for everyone residing in her historic home in Galena.
Often joined by her daughter, she makes sure to send coffee upstairs by 7:30 a.m. and have the morning meal laid out and ready at the table by 9 a.m., which she will clean up when everyone is done.
That is just how her day starts. After breakfast, there are rooms to be cleaned, reservations to be managed, landscaping to tend and an aging home to keep maintained.
It’s not the lifestyle that Gebelt initially thought retirement would bring. But for her, there is something special about giving people a memorable vacation.
Gebelt purchased The Steamboat House Bed & Breakfast in 2014, and while the job keeps her busy, she believes it is a natural fit.
“I’ve always been an entertainer, so this really works for me,” Gebelt said. “I used to host dinner parties to entertain people. Now, instead of doing dinner, I’m doing breakfast.”
Gebelt is one of numerous bed-and-breakfast owners maintaining vintage, historic homes in the tri-state area. The Steamboat House is the humble name for the Gothic revival mansion that sits on a squat hill right off Galena’s Spring Street. The house, built in 1855, features antique furniture, ornate wallpaper and hardwood floors.
While the setting is quaint and relaxing for the guests, the work required to maintain bed-and-breakfasts is often cumbersome, and part of the challenge for owners is making sure that those guests never know about any of it.
“You really work hard to make sure it all seems to happen very easily and automatically,” said David Stuart, owner of Richards House Bed & Breakfast Inn in Dubuque. “They don’t know about all the work that goes on behind the scenes.”
Bed-and-breakfasts generally are located in historic homes, lived in by their manager or owner and serve breakfast every morning, as their title clearly states. All of those shared factors contribute to the workload of B&B owners.
Stuart, who has managed Richards House since 1989, wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to prepare his guests breakfast and have it ready by 8 a.m.
The breakfasts aren’t simple dishes. Even before the morning they are prepared, each breakfast must be planned and shopped for, and they must be more substantial than the average breakfast a guest might make for themselves at home.
“We try to give them something they would not fix themselves,” Gebelt said. “We want it to be something special.”
The historic homes create problems as well. Many are more than 100 years old and require regular maintenance and repairs in order to keep going.
Gebelt said she has replaced three of her home’s four furnaces in the past four years.
The Richards House is nearly 140 years old.
Paul Kolimas, owner of Cloran Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Galena, said the maintenance of and repairs to these old homes takes time, but it must also be done in-between serving the needs of guests.
“There is usually something that needs to be fixed,” Kolimas said. “Eventually, you just need to accept that you won’t get everything done that you want to.”
Maintaining the age and historic feeling of the B&Bs is a major draw for many visitors that fill their rooms. Owners often go out of their way to consistently maintain the interior design of their inns to accentuate a room’s vintage aesthetic.
Gebelt said she has decorations taken out and replaced for every season.
“I’m actually just taking the summer decorations down now and putting up the fall ones,” she said. “It’s a lot to move around.”
On top of the daily operations, B&B owners must operate and promote their business, from answering emails from potential guests to marketing their inn on the internet.
“There are a lot of things you need to take care of, and you also just need to talk with your guests,” Kolimas said. “That’s all part of the experience.”
Gebelt, who gets up at 6:30 a.m., often finds herself not getting to bed until 11 p.m. or later, but she and the other B&B owners don’t mind.
For them, the workload and numerous tasks are all rewarding. Many of them came from different careers before purchasing their B&Bs.
Gebelt worked for an airline for several years. Kolimas taught high school history for more than 20 years before he moved to the hospitality business in 2018. And though it’s a far different career path, he ultimately feels there is something special about opening up his home to strangers in order to give them an escape from reality.
“The older I got, the more I appreciated the importance of taking time to get away,” Kolimas said. “You are not changing the world, but it’s a nice feeling when you help people get away and decompress for a weekend.”