When Lizette Lanoue and her husband, Roger, both 37, decided they wanted to go into business together, they figured a B&B might be a good idea. After all, they had wanted to be in real estate in the much-sought-after Harlem area. “Roger and I both were very interested in owning and managing rental property,” says Lizette. They purchased a brownstone on West 188th Street, just off of Malcolm X Boulevard, named the business 102Brownstone and began renting out rooms to visitors to the African-American cultural hot spot.
“We offer beautiful accommodations and we make every effort to supply the necessities that make for a comfortable stay,” says Lizette, who personally decorated each of the elegant rooms. “102Brownstone is for those seeking intimate accommodations without compromising their sense of privacy and freedom.”
There are six rooms in all, with names like The Merlot, Café au Lait, The Zen, and Luna, each with private bath and some with full kitchens. After living in the space for five years and renovating the home, the Lanoues opened 102Brownstone as a guest house a year ago. But while the area has become a tourist mecca of late, business for the two native New Yorkers was far from booming in the early days. In fact, Lizette, who handles the everyday operations, and Roger, who still works full-time outside of the home, were on the verge of shutting down 102Brownstone shortly after opening. Then they decided to go on Taking Care of Business, a new show on the cable TV network The Learning Channel. Sort of a business makeover show, Taking Care of Business has experts that not only help entrepreneurs rework business plans and execute new selling points, but they also do a physical makeover of the property. (One of 102Brownstone’s rooms was redecorated and renamed Chalet.)
“We thought [the show] was a great idea and a way to have some exposure at the same time,” notes Lizette.
Besides the one-room redo, 102Brownstone got a new Website, which was designed by Roger with tips from the show’s experts, and expert advice on media relations, service, pricing, image, networking, bookkeeping, and new signage—as well as nationwide publicity from the episode, which aired in January 2005. “We have had a lot of response because of the exposure,” notes Lizette.
Since the show, 102Brownstone has been selling out, especially with popular New York City attractions, such as the Central Park art installation, “The Gates,” bringing tons of tourists to Manhattan.
But, according to Lizette, 102Brownstone has yet to see a major profit. “It will be a while before we truly see any profit,” says Lizette. “We are still in the investment stage. With the continued exposure of Harlem and all that it has to offer, we hope that people will venture this way and choose 102Brownstone as their home away from home.”
After the show, the couple also reevaluated the concept for 102Brownstone and realized their business was more a boutique hotel than a B&B. Thus, a tweak in the name. The business is now called 102Brownstone Boutique Hotel. “We decided to stop referring to 102Brownstone as a bed-and-breakfast because we were reluctant to commit to the idea fully,” says Lizette. “We have chosen to move away from the category completely. We pray that 102Brownstone Boutique Hotel will keep its appeal without keeping the coffee and muffins.”
Despite the challenges, Lizette and Roger are in it for the long haul. “What better place to establish the roots of our home and business than the very place that we have existed in for so many years,” explains Lizette. “Roger attended high school at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics on 116th and I studied at Harlem Hospital on 135th Street. [While] it does not come without some difficulty—the economy, maintenance and ever-increasing property taxes in Harlem—we have had a positive experience in this venture thus far. If something turns out wonderful, we take pride in that. . . . We hope that by growing this business, we have the opportunity for retirement.”
Well, they have the perfect oasis, right at home.