Bed & Breakfast not a piece of cake

But that's not stopping Alexis Buckley, likely the area's youngest innkeeper, from reopening the city's oldest bed-and-breakfast.

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Alexis Buckley stands in front of the Green Gables Inn. Buckley re-opened the bed-and-breakfast in November.

WALLA WALLA - Of all the tasks of an innkeeper rebuilding a beloved bed-and-breakfast, the first meal of the day seemed like a piece of cake to Alexis Buckley.

Next to overcoming a four-month closure, re-establishing the business with customers and the general maintenance and upkeep of a more-than-4,000-square-foot mansion, Buckley thought breakfast was the least of her challenges.

This theory was quickly obliterated shortly after the re-opening of Green Gables Inn in November. One of the first couples Buckley hosted at the bed-and-breakfast at 922 Bonsella St. showed up at the table that morning having failed to mention a practically-vegan preference.

Buckley was shell-shocked. With plenty of fruit, granola and other items on-hand to feed her guests, the experience was far from disastrous. But it was an early lesson to be prepared for the unexpected.

Right after that, she hired Andi Bughi, a Portland-trained chef, to help with meal service.

Buckley said she is leaving no detail overlooked as she breathes life back into Green Gables, closed in July in a foreclosure proceeding before it was purchased by her family.

She fully expects the learning process to be an ongoing one.

Not only new to Walla Walla's lodging industry, Buckley is new to home-ownership.

At 25, she is most likely the youngest innkeeper who happens to be operating the community's oldest bed-and-breakfast.

"I do have a lot to learn, and I'm definitely open to suggestions," she said, settling into a brown leather couch in the front room of the 1909 house.

With most aspects of the operation, she starts by asking a question of herself: "If I were a guest, would I be satisfied with the service I'm getting?"

Buckley, a former Walla Walla High School swimming standout who went on to Northern Arizona University on a swimming scholarship, believes the question is key to re-establishing Green Gables as one of the must-stay destinations for visitors.

Opened for business in 1991, Green Gables was founded by Walla Wallans Margaret and Jim Buchan in the three-gabled mansion built by Rowland and Clarinda Green Smith more than nine decades before on homestead land owned by Clarinda's parents.

A little history: The home was a private residence until it was sold to the Upper Columbia Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association. For 30 years after that it served as a home to nurses working at what was then Walla Walla General Hospital across the street. The old hospital building is now Whitman College's North Hall dormitory.

In 1990, the Buchans bought the property and converted it to a bed-and-breakfast, with Victorian decor and themed rooms with names derived from "Anne of Green Gables."

Theirs wasn't the only bed-and-breakfast in Walla Walla at the time.

But it proved to be the most enduring.

It built a following as a lodging establishment for Whitman parents and traveling business people before Walla Walla began developing as a wine tourist destination and other bed-and-breakfasts sprouted in the landscape.

The Buchans sold the business to Albert Musard in 2007. Last July, Green Gables closed amid foreclosure proceedings.

Buckley and her parents, Mike and Sandy Buckley, stumbled upon the listing while they searched for properties they could convert into a bed-and-breakfast of their own.

The fourth-generation farm family had been contemplating a new venture.

For Buckley, the idea was a dream come true. Though a student of fashion merchandising and advertising in college, the 2008 NAU graduate had worked in lodging and tourism in the years after college.

She sold houseboat vacations and was a national parks concessionaire in Phoenix. She also worked for the coincidentally named Blue Mountain Inn & Suites in Colorado.

She dreamed one day of owning a bed-and-breakfast, but never believed the opportunity would come this quickly.

"When this just kind of fell into place, it seemed like the right thing to do," she said.

According to a listing on the Walla Walla County Assessor's website, the property was purchased for $650,000 - considerably less than the nearly $1 million the previous owner paid.

Buckley said her parents purchased the property, and she leases it and runs the business - often with help from several family members.

The first order of business when Green Gables was purchased in September was a thorough cleaning.

After a re-opening in November, the next step is clear: spreading the word that Green Gables is back.

There were amends to be made with previous customers who had booked reservations before the closure.

Buckley said she's also been busy contacting previous guests to let them know the business is back and under new ownership.

Her background in advertising has helped on the marketing side.

One of the few changes made to the appearance at the property has been in the kitchen, where red paint now adorns the cabinets, accentuated with wood flooring in a portion of that room.

Buckley has no plans for drastic changes in the rooms. Planted along the tree-lined streets of the residential neighborhood, the rooms of the bed-and-breakfast seem a charming fit, she said.

Down the road, she may change wallpaper, and she'd like to switch the carpet.

But with years ahead she believes time and energy are advantages to her youth in the industry.

"I always wanted to do this," she said. "I'd love to see this place busy."

If you go

For more information on Green Gables Inn, visit the business at greengablesinnww.com or on Facebook.

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