After all the kerfuffle of the past century — world wars, depressions and recessions, political drama and pandemics — you might be ready to escape to a kinder, gentler era, when TikTok was the sound of a clock and screen time meant looking out the window. Vancouver couple Sallie and Ted Reavey have made such a place: the Briar Rose Inn in downtown Vancouver.
They purchased the home on the corner of 11th and Daniels streets in 1997 and opened it as a bed-and-breakfast in 2006. Running a small inn was their plan from the get-go, a way to supplement retirement income and stay active into their later years. This September, they’ll celebrate 16 years at the happy intersection of sociable hospitality and Vancouver’s urban revitalization. It’s kept them on their toes and given them a shared sense of purpose.
“I thought, ‘How am I going to meet people when I’m retired?’ And then we opened this business,” Sallie Reavey said. “During the pandemic, my husband and I would look at each other and say ‘What do normal retired people do?’ This business keeps us involved, keeps us busy. It’s been really good for us.”
Sallie was working as a flight attendant for United Airlines and Ted had just retired from a career with Motorola’s communications division when they moved from Chicago to Vancouver in 1990. They lived in “a cookie-cutter house,” Sallie said, while hunting for a fixer-upper that would be large enough to accommodate guests and old enough to offer architectural charm. The 1908 Craftsman “was in horrible condition,” Sallie said, “but Ted knew he could tackle it and we’d have a lovely home when he finished. It was the perfect plan — his skills and my ability to pay the bills.”
The home, listed on the Clark County Heritage Register, was built by Fred and Katherine Kettenring, whose daughter Margaret was the first wife of George Propstra, founder of Burgerville. Several Kettenring children and grandchildren have visited the Reaveys over the years. Photographs of the Kettenring family adorn the inn’s lobby. The inn is named after the lush rose arbor that the Kettenrings built in the front yard. Though the arbor is no longer there, the Reaveys were meticulous about preserving the home’s turn-of-the-century character.
“I fully expected the renovations to take about three years, but Ted turned into Frank Lloyd Wright and had to do everything precisely, to my aggravation,” Sallie joked. “I wanted to quit flying and stay home and run the bed-and-breakfast. He worked slowly so I could pay off the Home Depot bill every month. Nine years later we opened, and it’s been great.”
Running a B&B can be a demanding job, but Ted and Sallie have worked out a system that capitalizes on their individual strengths and preferences.
“We divided the chores down the line. He chose breakfasts, and I clean the rooms and keep the books and take reservations,” said Sallie. “Ted gets up probably at 5 or 6 a.m., but he gets up that early whether there’s people here or not. We’re on different schedules so I can stay up until midnight if a guest is arriving late. We’re a great team because we’ve got different circadian rhythms. Anyway, it works for me.”
Ted said it works for him, too, because it allows him time to run errands, usually on two wheels. They had a pickup truck to haul materials for remodeling projects, but parking and insurance became too expensive, Ted said. Now he uses his “free” time to pedal around town.
“One of the nice things is, it’s 10 o’clock and I’m done. In order to keep active, I get on my bike every day and go somewhere and that keeps me busy. That’s my form of exercise if I’m not doing yardwork,” Ted said. “I ride my bike over to Fred Meyer and put groceries in my bike bags. It’s one of those things you don’t consider work. It’s keeping me alive.”
They both pitch in to maintain the small front yard and back garden, although they’ve cut back on yardwork now that Sallie is 76 and Ted is 74. Nevertheless, the house remains their little slice of paradise.
Ted said he thinks they paid more than what the house was worth in 1997, but he looked at the house and saw the possibilities — not just the home’s “good bones” but also its location in an up-and-coming downtown Vancouver.
“The real estate agent said, ‘If I was going to invest money, I would invest downtown,’ ” Ted said, noting they had paid attention to former Mayor Royce Pollard’s efforts to revitalize Esther Short Park and portions of the downtown core.
“Once the park got done, then all of a sudden stuff started to change. Houses on Kaufman Avenue and in Carter Park started to change hands. We’ve been the beneficiary of all those evolutions,” Ted said. “But we were here when all that stuff was terrible and we were waiting for the next big thing to happen. Now the waterfront has really kicked it into high gear.”
The pandemic slowed things down, but the Reaveys adjusted, closing two rooms and installing a hospital-grade air filtration system — a boon during the 2020 fires, when they fully reopened to accommodate people escaping the smoke. Last year the inn earned its highest profits ever, Sallie said, because people are “itching to get out of the house” after the pandemic. Both Sallie and Ted get a kick out of interacting with guests and watching guests interact with each other.
“People who like to visit and sit in the living room with a cup of coffee are the people that like to stay here,” Sallie said. “Sometimes I think, ‘There isn’t going to be anything interesting about this person,’ but pretty soon they’re telling me amazing stuff, the places they’ve been and where they’re going next. Total strangers sit down at the breakfast table and we’ll hear them all laughing and just really enjoying the meal, and we’ll think, ‘Isn’t that heartwarming?’ ”
Sallie does list rooms on Airbnb, but said that most people make reservations directly through the inn’s website or through booking.com. She doesn’t think sites like Airbnb, Vacasa or Vrbo have affected the Briar Rose Inn one way or the other, either by bringing in new guests or offering more alternatives to out-of-towners.
“I have this general feeling about life, there’s enough for everybody. We’re as busy as we want to be,” Sallie said. “I’m happy that other people are able to make a little extra income if they have a space for rent. I’m not real cutthroat or greedy. In fact, some days we just block off rooms because we want to take a break.”
The philosophy has paid off. Most bed-and-breakfast owners burn out after about five or six years, Sallie said, but she and Ted have no plans to close the inn. Ted still likes being behind the scenes, making granola and yogurt, gingerbread pancakes, blueberry waffles and baked French toast. Meanwhile, Sallie’s flight attendant training makes her adept at connecting with guests, she said. And even the most stoic visitors melt in the presence of Gracie, their friendly little Cavalier King Charles spaniel. It’s an arrangement that suits everyone just fine.
“I’m the guy that scrambles your eggs, no big deal,” Ted said. “If you want fuzzy wuzzies, you’ve got talk to Sallie, or let Gracie kiss you.”