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STATE STREET’S HOSPITALITY GENES
Written by Anna Ferraro
Many Jacksonville residents know of the charming bed and breakfast (B&B) nestled on 1109 W. State Street. What they may not know is that it stands out from other B&B’s in its warmth, charm, and hospitable depth. Part of that probably stems from the fact that this B&B is housed in one of Jacksonville’s beautiful and historic homes and has all the comforts one could desire in a B&B. But there’s more to it than that…
The hospitality at Blessings on State is a decades-old vision of innkeeper Gwenn Eyer. Eyer shares, “I grew up in a Christian home where my dad was a country preacher. There were no hotels in our little town, so any people visiting from out of town stayed with us – from all over the world. My dad’s family in particular, was very big on hospitality. …” Eyer concluded with a chuckle, “If there’s a hospitality gene, I have it.”
After a honeymoon in Canada when Eyer and her husband visited several different B&B’s, Eyer began compiling her binder of ideas for the B&B that she hoped to own someday. But within the first couple years of marriage, she and her husband adopted several children, and their own little house was bursting at the seams. Eyer put her dream on hold. However, genes are permanent little things, and Eyer’s “hospitality gene” was no exception to that.
Finally, on May 27th, 2008, the binders with Eyer’s ideas got the dust brushed off of them, and the dreams came to life with the purchase of 1109 W. State Street. It was a fantastic 50-year birthday gift for Eyer, and she rolled up her sleeves with vigor as she worked to bring her hospitality dream to life. “Blessings on State” was born – a place where guests can experience “southern hospitality with Midwest charm,” but more than that, a place where they can find blessing and encouragement from the loving family of innkeepers. Eyer shared, “Yes, our name has a religious connotation. We wanted something that would be honoring to the Lord, and deliberately chose a name that reflected that – Blessings on State.”
One of Eyer’s guiding life verses is found in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” And so she does, saying, “When it comes to inn keeping, I just want to do my very best, and I want it to be better all the time. I’m always asking my guests, ‘Is there something I can do to make your visit better?’” Invariably, if there’s a request, Eyer jumps on it – like the time a guest told her that it was hard to have a relaxing bath in the luxurious suites’ bathtub because of the B&B’s “no candle” policy. That very day, Eyer jumped in her car and headed out to find a light dimmer that would fit the request – providing the ambient lighting desired without creating a fire hazard.
To Eyer, it’s more than a business. She shares, “I remember a guest whose best friend had died…” and Eyer quietly was there for her, going out of her way to give extra and unpaid time to be supportive. She explained, “You just have to see what [the guests] need. We’ve had families stay with us when they’re having marital issues, and they come here to get away and try to work on it. Sometimes there’s counseling involved in a day’s work.” To date, Eyer has played board games together on the front porch with her guests or given them tissues as they cried in her parlor. She stated,” In my heart of hearts, I want to be a blessing to people. I want to encourage them, and engage them, not just house them.”
Looking at her day-to-day work, Eyer shared, “I’m all in – this is my heart’s desire. I planned it in massive binders, and the Lord fulfilled the dream for me and my family.” Speaking of family, Valerie, Eyer’s young daughter, was named “America’s Youngest Innkeeper” by Mary White, the respected author and CEO of BnBFinder, has a place in the work as well. During a time when Eyer was walking through cancer and treatments and unable to do many of her normal tasks, Valerie helped keep the B&B open, even giving the house tours – a task she took upon herself at the age of seven. Picking up the tidbits from following her mom, she eventually owned the job. “Valerie’s got the hospitality gene, too,” said her mother.
Through the years, their guest list has only grown. Eyer shared, “I’m a big believer in community. We’ve got great community partners. There is so much here to offer from a tourism standpoint in our town for history, entertainment, and more.” For that reason, people are coming to Jacksonville, and to Blessings on State for no other reason than to see the town and enjoy the beautiful B&B. Eyer explained, “Folks come in that have no ties whatsoever to Jacksonville. Once we get them, they keep coming back.”
That’s thanks to Eyer and her dedication to her job. Her goal is to improve the inn for each visit, saying, “I want the guests to say that the B&B is better every time they come.” This again goes back to the heart of her work – “to minister and meet the needs of others.” This isn’t just her job, but a part of who she is. She shares, “I am a people person… I think that engaging with the guests and trying to meet their needs is very key.”
Thus, the guests at Blessings on State enjoy countless luxuries, including premier all-suite property, full private baths, private sitting rooms, free high-speed secured Wi-Fi, flat-screen digital satellite TV, DVD players, all-season fireplaces, feather beds layered with luxury linens, casually elegant décor, gourmet breakfasts, a 24-hour hot beverage buffet, sodas, and snacks, lap desks, a full business center, high service standards, and more.
So together with her small, but dedicated staff, Eyer continues her mission – to provide a B&B where people “arrive as guests – but depart as friends.” Her guests recognize that clearly. But they’re not just saying that at the local level. On a state and national level, Eyer’s B&B has been recognized with several awards, including TripAdvisor’s “Certificate of Excellence” (multiple times!), the BnBFinder’s “Guest Favorite Award” (2x), the BnBFinder’s “Glorious Garden Award,” and the LanierBB.com’s award for “Best Overall Amenities,” in addition to recently making it to a list online as one of the top 14 getaways in Illinois.
So, this hospitable gem in our community calls to you and says, “whether you are planning a night on the town, a romantic getaway, a business trip, or a family reunion, Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast is a premier choice. ….” To check their rates and availability, visit them at www.blessingsonstate.com or call them at (217) 245-1013. When you do go and book yourself a night, see what you think when you experience that “hospitality gene.”
By Nick Draper, Jacksonville Journal Courier, Jacksonville, Illinois
Published 9:33 pm, Tuesday, August 1, 2017
A little red chair that has made its way across the United States and Canada in order to promote local bed and breakfast establishments made a stop in Jacksonville.
Last week, Gwenn Eyer, innkeeper at Blessings on State Bed and Breakfast, made her way to Peace of Earth Lodge in Rushville to pick up the chair and bring it to Jacksonville. Eyer said she was excited for the opportunity to be part of the event as she intended to use the opportunity to not only promote her business but to promote the city as well.
“I’m always looking for ways to promote Jacksonville,” Eyer said. “We had a couple from Rochester and they looked at Springfield and said that wasn’t what they were looking for. They drove the extra distance because they wanted to stay at Blessings on State but they weren’t familiar with the area at all. They, like a lot of guests, said that they needed to come back because they didn’t realize everything that we have here.”
The Red Chair Project started in 2012 at a bed and breakfast in Cape Cod. Now, the chair travels in large sections of the United States, such as the east coast and southern states in 2014, the west coast in 2015 and Canada through Alaska in 2016. This year the chair is making stops throughout the Midwest and is currently making its way through Illinois.
Eyer partnered with Warmowski Photography to come up with places to photograph the chair that would highlight the many attractions Jacksonville has to offer. The photographs will be released on Blessings on State’s Facebook page and blog that can be found at blessingsonstate.com.
As they’re posted, the bed and breakfast is challenging visitors to identify where the photos were taken. On the first day, the chair was featured in several notable locations, such as the Governor Duncan Mansion, Antiquarius on the square, and Lonzerotti’s Italia Restaurant.
“I want people to come and enjoy the whole area,” Eyer said. “People can go less than two miles and eat dinner in a restored train depot, go out and fish in a lake that has been known to be one of the best bass fishing lakes… When you look at a dot on the map and it says ‘Jacksonville,’ you don’t know what that means. A lot of people want to come back once we get them here.”