BERRYVILLE — Allison Ritter admits it's taking longer to renovate and reopen the historic Battletown Inn than she anticipated.
She had a baby. Concerns about catching the coronavirus also got in the way. And, there were many furnishings to sort through and determine whether they were worth reusing, plus a lot of junk to throw out.
It seems "the original owners just walked out the door" and left everything behind, Ritter said, including computer equipment, business records and even food in refrigerators.
But the main reason why the renovations are taking a while to accomplish is that "we're doing it ourselves," she said of herself and her husband, Tommy, a contractor.
The building was in good shape "from a contractor's perspective," Ritter said. Yet much of its infrastructure had to be upgraded, she said, because "there were so many Band-Aids" that previous owners had placed on it over the years.
It also had to undergo a lot of cleaning. Wooden floors that had turned black from accumulations of dust and dirt are one example.
Some furnishings will be new. Others, such as chairs from the inn's former restaurant, are being refurbished so they can be used again.
Ritter declined to say how much she has spent on the renovations. Laughing, she said they have not been as costly as they could have because she has "a contractor working for free" — her husband.
The inn on West Main Street, on the edge of downtown Berryville, dates to the early 1800s when it was built as a house. It most recently was a fine dining restaurant. To Ritter's understanding, it has been closed since around 2014.
Ritter said her mom, Sue Whitbeck, bought the building from its previous owner, Jerry Johnson, because "it was a really good investment."
Whitbeck and her daughter already own and operate The Tea Cart, an elegant, British-style tea room downtown.
Amid the tea room's success, "I saw how offering a unique experience would draw people from two or three hours away," said Ritter.
For the inn, "I wanted to create something you don't see around here" already, too, she said.
Nine rooms will be available for people wanting to spend the night, which will fill a void in the immediate Berryville area. Local officials and consultants have determined the town needs a small, slightly upscale lodging place.
Ritter, 36, emphasized that she doesn't intend for the Battletown Inn to compete with venues such as bed-and-breakfast establishments and Rosemont Manor, which frequently hosts weddings, corporate events and other large gatherings. Such places offer their own unique amenities and experiences and might be considered "getaway" destinations, she said.
Instead, she aims for the inn to provide services to the community, as well as general lodging for visitors who are "going to be out and about," she continued. To help stimulate the local economy, she will encourage overnight guests to visit stores and businesses, she said.
The inn will have a restaurant called The Kitchen Table serving breakfast and lunch. Its fare, which will include a Sunday brunch buffet, will be "comfort food" prepared in modern ways.
Ritter said the area already has a variety of restaurants that seem to focus on dinner and serve well-prepared meals. What is lacking, she said, are breakfast and lunch offerings affordable to the average person yet which have more thought put into their preparation than items typically served at fast-food or fast-casual eateries.
The biggest transition inside the inn, Ritter surmised, is occurring in the former guest reception area and lounge. It will be occupied by the Sweet Elephant Bake Shop, a business that Lauren Connelly now runs from her home. New lighting has been added to the room, along with a glass bakery display case and a sales counter made of wood with a quartz top.
Connelly said her business has grown since 2017 when she started selling baked goods at the Clarke County Farmer's Market.
Having a brick-and-mortar location is "a good opportunity for my business to grow" further, she said. "There's not a lot of options in Berryville" for storefronts with kitchens inside.
Down a couple of stairs from the bakery, in an adjoining room, will be the new lounge. It will have both men's and women's restrooms with old-timey appearances and some unique features. For instance, women will wash their hands at a porcelain janitorial sink recently installed.
Upstairs will be the Barrel on Main, a "tasting room" where visitors can sample beers, wines and alcoholic ciders made by area businesses. The brews will be served in "very limited amounts," Ritter said laughing, because "I don't have any interest in opening a bar."
The tastings will be intended to entice people to visit the breweries and buy beverages to take home, helping to boost a segment of the regional economy, she said.
Plans are for a limited number of food choices to be available in the tasting room. It will be inside the inn's former Gray Ghost Tavern, where an old bar and mirror remains in good condition. Ritter said her husband, while doing construction inside, hasn't seen a ghost but he sometimes has heard a door shut or seen a light come on for no reason.
Except for Connelly's bakery, Ritter will be the owner or part-owner of the businesses in the inn.
The goal is for the bakery to open by June, with the restaurant opening and lodging being provided by the end of the year, Ritter said.
Interior renovations at the inn are mostly finished, although kitchen equipment must be hooked up. Exterior improvements will start soon. Ritter said she is working with the Clarke County Historical Association to ensure the exterior work maintains the building's bygone characteristics. However, plans are for a more modern sign to be installed outside, she said.
Preserving the building's history is important to Ritter, but she also wants it to reflect her own design tastes.
"I want to invite you into my home, in a sense, and treat you as if you were in my own home," she said.
"I know people are anxious for it to open," she continued. But when the work is finished, the businesses are open and people visit and see the improvements for the first time, "they'll see why it's taken so long" to re-establish the inn.