An Opportunity Together
It started out with Bryan Gray simply looking for a place to live. Recently relocated from southwestern Idaho for a job headquartered in the DC suburbs, he gravitated towards West Virginia as a familiar landscape. He met Cathy soon after. In 2017, after a lot of driving around, they found a place in Harpers Ferry that happened to have a separate cottage on the property. Cathy still had a house south of Winchester and it occurred to them they could rent out the Harpers Ferry cottage while they were working on selling that house and combining their lives as newlyweds.
A Fresh Approach to Hospitality
After a few minutes of conversation with Bryan and Cathy, you can sense that neither is short of energy. By 2018, they had also purchased the Harpers Ferry Guest House. A former bed and breakfast until 2013, the property was an opportunity in waiting. Cathy’s parents were retiring and agreed to join forces with her and Bryan to be the innkeepers. When asked about why it made sense to open another inn, Bryan noted “there is clearly more demand than supply for lodging in Harpers Ferry.” Cathy described how their approach “focused on giving both properties character, to try and stand out. The network of guest house owners actually feed each other business, especially with groups who need multiple rooms. We also are very involved with the merchant’s association in the town. We all work together.”
Like daffodils in the spring, by the following year Cathy and Bryan had found another property to buy, this one overlooking the river. Being guest house owners was not a long-held ambition, but it seemed to fit their skills and lifestyle. Cathy has a long history in sales as well as experience with historic preservation and interior design. Bryan likewise is a creative person. While his day job is full time, he works remotely, mostly on the computer. The tangible, in-person aspect of restoring and maintaining the properties is a welcome break.
In the spring of 2020, Bryan and Cathy were pondering the implications of the unfolding pandemic, and Cathy’s employer decided her days as a salesperson on the road were at an end. A friend called to tell them that the Thomas Shepherd Inn was coming on the market. Then another friend called. And another. They arranged to visit the property on the day it was first open for showing. Standing in the back yard after walking through, they had already decided to make an offer.
Building on Tradition
The concerns of the pandemic are shaping Cathy and Bryan’s approach to how they would operate the Inn, but they are also intentionally rethinking how they host guests even beyond the current restrictions. Simple touches, such as adding a remote check-in process and small refrigerators in the rooms, will allow guests more freedom to come and go without relying on close contact with the innkeepers. Cathy observed, “we have a lot of guests that are booking and then they call to ask what precautions we take. Guests want to be out and about, but with less contact.”
Cathy described their decision to switch from a very elaborate prepared breakfast served in a common dining room to an extended buffet. She noted how, “especially with Covid-19, guests are not up for sitting together in a small room with strangers. With the buffet, we’re not on a fixed schedule and we can serve until late in the morning. Guests will be able to eat in the sitting room, the parlor, even in the yard when the weather is warm. We can also send guests into town for meals too. We see the Inn as a place for guests to decompress, so offering flexibility is an important feature.”
The Grays have hit the ground running — they already had the inn fully booked for the night they closed the deal and took over operations. Cathy says, “we want this to be our place and we’ll be updating the rooms as we go along. I love finding pieces of furniture and decorations that will make each room memorable for our guests. We also want to open up the backyard to connect it with the veranda, so guests can enjoy the outside space as well.”
Bryan and Cathy plan to continue to operate their guest houses in Harpers Ferry and see the two towns as siblings. The Grays also own Harpers Ferry Bikes. “We want to encourage guests to stay longer and experience both towns,” said Bryan. The Grays are the sixth operators of the Thomas Shepherd Inn since it opened as a bed and breakfast in 1984. Noting the history, Bryan said, “we are honored and humbled to be caretakers of this local treasure and hope to continue the legacy, to keep it true to its history of hospitality.”
The Thomas Shepherd Inn is located at 300 West German Street in Shepherdstown. Get more information at the Thomas Shepherd Inn’s website or Facebook or learn more about Potomac Adventure and Bryan and Cathy’s other properties in Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown.By Staff Contributor