Second Acts Cool People: Meet Christine, Owner, The Grey Swan Inn
Christine Hasbrouck’s second act career was buying and running a lovely Bed and Breakfast. This is one of those second acts that many people talk and dream about and idealize; Christine and her husband did it. So, what’s it really like?
Hard work! That’s what it’s really like. But it is also fun and engaging in the sense that innkeepers get to meet interesting people who stay as guests–a definite perk.
For years Christine and her husband Jim had entertained the thought of running a B&B. Jim had a long career working for the USDA Forest Service and traveling throughout the US. He came to find that the travel was much more pleasant staying at inns rather than sterile hotel rooms. As retirement approached, they decided to make the dream a reality. “We didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives asking what if,” she said. “We didn’t want to live with regrets.”
Jim’s last duty station was Washington DC and as they planned their exit strategy, they decided they really liked this part of the country. They began the process of finding their ideal property.
So how do you make this particular dream happen? Christine said the first step was lots and lots of research. There are real estate brokers that work specifically with B&B properties, and this connection was made. They had specific parameters–for example a limited number of rooms to keep the workload manageable for them as a couple, and a property that did not require major renovations, which winnowed down the choices. And of course, the internet yielded pages of resources and information, as did obvious literature such as the book…B&Bs for Dummies.
Christine went through the exercise advocated by many entrepreneurs: creating a Vision Board in order to help visualize dreams and goals. She sought guidance through various channels, some unconventional, including consulting a fortune teller. Christine notes that it was uncanny how everything pointed them along this path. She remembers the fortune teller seeing a vision of a red tree. She gestures to the window: outside is a giant magnolia with red pods.
Christine and Jim found their spot of heaven. In 2007 they took ownership of the Grey Swan Inn, in Blackstone Virginia, about 50 miles southwest of Richmond and about 150 miles south of Washington DC. Built in 1902, it is one of the grand structures on Blackstone’s picturesque Main Street. There are 5 bedrooms on the two upper floors of this 3-story beauty. Christine and Jim have private quarters downstairs. They prepare breakfast and serve it in the comforting sunroom where we all joined Christine for tea and coffee. And about the coffee…it was some of the best we’ve ever had. Jim has made of a hobby of roasting coffee and he seems to have perfected the art. The words on their website ring quite true: visiting the Grey Swan is “like coming home…only more indulgent.”
Even though Blackstone is a small town in a rather out-of-the-way location, there are intriguing points of interest in the region that draw guests to the Grey Swan. One is Farmville, which boasts the huge Green Front furniture complex, Longwood University and High Bridge State Park. Employees of the State Department and Ft. Pickett also like to stay here, as well as those interested in Civil War history and antiquing. Other adventure spots close by are Lucky Lake Gem and Mineral Mine; the No Limits Skydiving airport in Lunenburg County; and Lake Phoenix in McKenney. The lake is the site of a former quarry, so it is very deep, and is actually used for scuba diving training.
At lunchtime we walked just down the street to a restaurant called the Corner Kitchen—located of course at the corner of Broad and Main Streets–and the proprietor treated us like old friends. It is evident that in this small town, Christine knows everyone. She greeted all the customers that came in and people we passed on the street. It was like Mayberry and that felt wonderful.
And how has this second act played out? “Better than expected,” says Christine. “This isn’t something you go into to become rich,” she notes, “but it definitely paid the mortgage and we have loved this place. I wake up with thoughts of gratitude every day.”
Christine’s career has taken many turns over the years and this may be her “swan song” if you will. She and Jim are actually planning to put to the Grey Swan on the market and move to Arkansas to be close to family (and the big draw is the grandkids!) and settle into a low-maintenance lifestyle. This process, however, could take a few years and in the meantime, they will happily continue as innkeepers.
However, in Christine’s world, it sounds like retirement does not mean slowing down. She has what all of us should aspire to as retirement approaches: a plan. As the first order of business, she has designated 3 weeks of relaxing. And then…she will continue to be active in Rotary and her political party. She is interested in volunteering and working with non-profits. And being clean and sober for 27 years, she also will seek out a recovery support group to continue this journey. If she decides she wants to keep earning she would happily work as an Uber or Lyft driver— “I love to drive!” she laughs. Christine has also been taking a class which is offered in Richmond, by the Alliance for Unitive Justice that “promotes system change for a more peaceful world,” according to the organization’s website. She is considering becoming a trainer for the class in her future location. And of course, she and her husband envision plenty of time with family and time for fun.
Sounds like a good plan indeed.
“Home is where my feet are,” says Christine. She can adapt and has found something good in every place she has lived and is looking forward to the next adventure, the next act.
Can you see why Christine is one of our favorite people and a very cool fellow Boomer? Consider taking a road trip to Blackstone this summer and visit Christine at the Grey Swan!