Erie Canal B&B owners ready for a new chapter

Posted 1 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Former Catholic school will become assisted living site

Photos by Sue Cook – Jeri and Lou Becker sit in front of one of the blackboards in the Erie Canal Room that guests wrote messages on during their stays.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

ALBION – The Erie Canal Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast will be closing its doors after seven years in business. Lou and Jeri Becker purchased the building 10 years ago and began their bed-and-breakfast business along the Erie Canal in 2009. This year, the couple is moving on to retirement.

Originally the building was a Polish Catholic School in 1907. The Beckers spent some time adding to renovations that a previous owner had completed and opened their business. Much of the character of the original school remains.

The room named The Classroom is where breakfast is served. The couple will leave the room looking exactly like this when they hand over the keys, leaving behind some personal possessions to keep a part of themselves in the place.

The main sitting and breakfast room still looks very much like the original classroom. A great deal of the woodwork and decorations were also saved and looks just as good as when it was first put in. It blends seamlessly with modern updates that were added later.

“We worked for Xerox, both of us, for 30 years,” Mrs. Becker said. “We had no experience with starting our own business, or specifically a bed-and-breakfast business.”

“We had no hotel management kind of background or anything like that. It was kind of scary in the beginning,” added Mr. Becker.

The business has welcomed thousands of people over the years. Many people stayed overnight, but many daytime guests would also come to see the history and to get tours of the building.

“We had Christmas Park memorabilia, the miniature carnival that used to be on Caroline Street, Sugar Bowl restaurant items, Christmas trees, vintage model trains, Department 56 villages set up and a lot of sound effects,” Mrs. Becker said. “One was a recording of the bells at St. Joseph’s on Christmas Eve where we’re playing carols and then a big freight train was going through in the background.”

The Hudson Miniature Carnival will be given back to the owner, Charlie Zicari.

The backdrop on the stage, the vintage pictures, the carousel, the Sugar Bowl restaurant display and a few other select items will remain. The other items were on loan for display and will return to their original owners.

“The biggest thrill was people that live here coming back and seeing the history again and bringing their kids’ grandkids and telling the stories,” Mrs. Becker said. “When we had the 100th anniversary here a lot of former students came back. We were hearing their stories.”

The bed-and-breakfast has welcomed people from the community as well as bicyclists, kayakers, family reunions, weddings and more.

The bathroom of The Erie Canal Room has a border made from the pages of the Peter Spier illustrated book from 1970 of the song “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal.”

The Beckers welcomed their final guests on Friday. There were a group of 24 bicyclists that came into town.

“They were staying at Tillman’s, The Pillars, Dollinger’s and here,” Mrs. Becker said. “Eleven stayed here, eight inside and three camping outside. The people from Dollinger’s came in for breakfast. It was a wonderful way to end. Because it was such a big group, it was a celebration for us. The timing was perfect.”

The Beckers have purchased a home in Spencerport to be closer to their family that is mostly on the east side of Rochester.

The Heritage Room was one of the rooms where guests could stay.

“Two years ago, we went to a B&B and the woman asked us if we had an exit plan and we did not,” Mrs. Becker said. “Along with that, two of our kids had babies in the last two years ago and one this past week. We have five grandchildren now. This is a very demanding business. It keeps us here. We want more time with our family.”

“We didn’t want to end on a low note,” Mr. Becker said. “We have our health and business has been excellent last year. This year we cut back on taking reservations because we knew we were closing.”

The couple says they will also miss their relationships they have formed in the community. They loved having the Crooked Door restaurant over the bridge. Their customers would cross the bridge on foot to get other meals throughout the day. They have also appreciated the village government. The people in the village departments and board have rallied around their business whenever they needed help.

“These 10 years have been a gift,” Mrs. Becker said. “We’re ready for a slower pace than what we’ve had. The message we would give is for people that are older, don’t be afraid to take a risk because it is so worth it.”

“For what we’ve experienced, it’s been a joy being here,” said Mr. Becker.

“There’s a real misconception around town about why we retired,” she said. “People assumed the bridge being out caused us to lose business. Every year was better than the year before.”

This is the second blackboard in The Erie Canal Room. Both boards contain messages in other languages besides English. There are messages in Japanese, Russian, Polish and French. There are also notes from locals such as the Albion FFA.

“The people that have come through here have been simply amazing. It was great experiences all the way around and we met people from all over the world,” Mrs. Becker said. “How do you really put it into words? I don’t even know what to say to capture it all. I absolutely have nothing negative at all to say about any of it, even the work.”

Tender Loving Family Care Inc. purchased the property and it will become a senior assisted living site in the coming months. The Beckers said they will wait for a while to pass and then will eventually come back to visit and see the place again.