Greg Alexander

Chasing the semi-retirement dream

Baltimore Sun, November 2004

Anyone who watched television in the 1980s probably saw the CBS hit shot, Newhart, in which the show’s star, Bob Newhart, played an author who bought a Vermont inn with his wife. For eight years, the show focused on the eccentric townspeople and the varied guests that stayed at the charming inn. Running an inn on the show was never boring and always full of laughter, and while the show didn’t focus much on the hard work involved in running an inn, it inevitably inspired some viewers to follow the dream of running a B&B. So, what’s life like with continuous strangers in your home dropping in from all over the country or even all over the world?

“Restored my faith in humanity”

“I’ve kept this job longer than any other,” says Glenda Gentner, who owns Glenda’s Bed & Breakfast at 2028 Park Ave., in Reservoir Hill with her husband Paul. “I’ve met so many wonderful people through the years; it’s restored my faith in humanity.” Gentner and her husband run the B&B out of their home – a historic brick and brownstone rowhome in Reservoir Hill. The Georgian style home was built in 1886, and the couple bought the home the same day they got married. “I’ve spent 28 years in Reservoir Hill, so I’ve seen a lot of changes. The neighborhood is really coming alive again.”

Gentner says that a neighbor who ran a B&B encouraged her to open one. “I had never really thought about it, and my son was against it. He didn’t want ‘strangers’ in the home. After he got married and moved out, we renovated the third floor, moved our bedroom to that level and started renting out the second floor. We started with just one room in 1991, and now we rent out two guest rooms,” says Gentner, who previously worked for the secret service and the civil service in Washington, D.C.

“It took some getting used to having other people in the house,” she admits. “The first thing I had to learn was how to cook; I couldn’t cook an egg,” she laughs. Gentner says that her husband’s job as an architect with Marriott helped, too. “My husband and I learned a lot about hospitality through Marriott,” says the Texas native, whose Southern accent adds to her charming personality.

“The great thing about running a B&B is that it has allowed us to continuously update our home and beautify it with the addition of antiques and furnishings. It also has allowed us to give back to the community,” she says. Gentner and her husband are actively involved in Reservoir Hill’s resurgence. “My husband leads the walks each June that celebrate Reservoir Hill’s history and gardens. It’s a two-day event, and all the money goes to the beautification of the neighborhood. We like to play an active role in the neighborhood. Since I run a business in a residential area, I think it’s the least we can do.” Out of respect to her neighbors, Gentner says she does not display a sign outside.

Guests arriving at Glenda’s Bed & Breakfast enjoy tastefully decorated rooms, as well as a sunroom to enjoy breakfast. “Guests fill out a breakfast request form where they choose coffee or tea and one of three entrees – blueberry casserole, scrambled eggs with potatoes or grits or French toast. I always have seasonal fruit, muffins and toast.” Gentner says that some guests prefer to spend time outside by the goldfish pond or in the meditation room in the back garden.

“I think our guests prefer the residential setting and proximity to the Inner Harbor, the museums and restaurants like ‘b’ Bistro in Bolton Hill,” she says.

An extended home

“As soon as I saw this house, I knew I wanted to run a B&B. What else do you do with 11 bedrooms? All of our dogs could have their own room, and we’d still have several rooms left over,” says Robert Patenaude, who, along with his partner Doug Harbit, owns the David Warner Inn ( in Takoma Park, Md. Patenaude says that they used to live in a brick Colonial home with small bedrooms. “We could fit a queen-size bed and a dresser, and it was full, so we wanted some extra room.”

The late Victorian home boasts a long and unique history. One of the few Stick style homes remaining in the area, the three-story home was built in 1855 by John B. Davis, according to a report prepared by Kelsey & Associates, a historic preservation firm. Featuring 11 bedrooms, two full kitchens and over 6,400 square feet, the home was once a speakeasy and gambling institution in the 1930s when Maryland permitting gambling. It was later home to the private, well-known Cynthia Warner School from 1940 to 1987. However, when the home was sold in 1987 to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it was slated for demolition. In 1991, the home was sold and moved 150 feet to allow the church to build a sanctuary and avoid demolition for the historic home. Patenaude and his partner purchased the home in 1997 and opened the David Warner Inn, named after its first owner (Davis) and the former school (Warner). To protect its historic status, the owners have secured protection through a preservation easement and designation by the Maryland Historical Trust and National Register of Historic Places.

“We started with two guest rooms, and now we have four,” says Patenaude. “We rented some rooms to friends, and since we opened the inn so quickly, we were used to always having other people in the house.” Patenaude says that Harbit designed the Web site, and they promoted the inn by advertising on Web sites like and “Our Web site is great because it has everything guests need to know, as well as photos and online reservation capabilities. It’s made my life much easier.

“The inn just took off immediately. So many homes in Takoma Park are small, so when people have family in town for the holidays, they put them up here. We’ve become an extension of many people’s homes. Our proximity to Washington, D.C., the University of Maryland and the nearby hospital that performs transplants has driven business, too. We get travelers from all over the world, and we have one of the highest rates of repeat business anywhere.” Patenaude adds that the inn was recently awarded top honors by Bed and Breakfast Journal. “I think our home-cooked meals, connection to the community and hospitality garners much of our business.” An example of the warm hospitality is that every guest is given a teddy bear to take home. “I collected teddy bears and used to decorate the Christmas tree designated for children with them. Now, former guests send us teddy bears that they buy on their travels.”

If you’re thinking of opening a B&B, it’s best to consult a professional financial advisor. “So many people are in jobs that they hate, so running a B&B is very attractive,” says Chuck Wienckowski, CPA, partner in charge of financial services for mid-Atlantic region for Clifton Gunderson, LLP. “We have a lot of Baby Boomer clients who are no longer looking to retire but semi-retire and doing something more enjoyable. Many don’t want to retire completely because they’ll get bored.”

Wienckowski says that running a B&B is great for additional income and a way to stay active; however, be aware of the tax consequences. “Generally, with a personal residence, if you sell your home and don’t make a $500,000 profit, there are no additional taxes to pay. However, if you sell a home that has a business included, it’s a more complex sale. The good news is that a potion of your expenses – relevant to the percentage of the home that’s used for the business – are tax-deductible, such as utilities and homeowner’s insurance.”

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