Chamber of Commerce members on July 20 toured the 1870 House, one of the new Airbnbs to open within the community.

Owners Zena Burns and her husband, Richard, hosted the return of Business After Hours, the first business gathering the organization has held since the onset of the pandemic. They are shown above with Kris Soenen, Chamber president and Mayor Don Lyons.

“It is so good to see all of you,” said Kris Soenen, Chamber president and owner of Who Knew? Consignment. “As we gather for the first time, I can’t imagine being in a more grand setting. New business, new energy, new people in the community – this represents everything we are all about. We are so excited to have Zena and Richard here.”

The opening of Dowagiac’s first Airbnb is an effort that has been in the making for a couple of years, Mayor Lyons said. “One of the things Dowagiac has lacked historically is appropriate guest housing for a wedding, funeral or class reunion. There simply hasn’t been an appropriate place. As such, a group of entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to invest in the future.”

The Mayor spoke of Zena and Richard, along with Desmond Lathan, who in August opens The Hatch Street Manor Airbnb; Shannon Lyons and Cathy McBride, who will be opening The Altus Apartment Airbnb in September; and Stephen Westman, who in 2022 will be opening Wonder Woods, a boutique lakeside campground at Sister Lakes.

“Cooperatively, they have a website Stay Dowagiac,” Mayor Lyons said. “We are hoping this initiative will be the foundation of something that will grow and prosper for years to come. Quite honestly this was done as an experiment. Would this community support a significant investment in a way that wants new investment to follow? While this is yet to be determined, early results are encouraging.”

Since the beginning of June, Zena said 1870 House has been booked every weekend, with a few bookings in between and more to come. For The Hatch Street Manor, after placing just two photos on Facebook, Desmond is fully booked for August.

“Joan and I were at Desmond and Stephen’s place this afternoon,” Mayor Lyons said. “It is gorgeous. Zena’s is outstanding. It is absolutely over the top. Shannon and Cathy are completing theirs. All in all, all three should be complete, and up and running by this fall. We have high hopes. We have every confidence this is going to be successful and will lead to a much different future for guests coming into our community.”

Zena and Richard also own the home across the street from their Airbnb, where they live. “Richard and I constantly talk about how we are blown away by the wonderful community we were lucky enough to encounter here,” Zena said. “Last year, when we moved here from Chicago, we expected to live in Dowagiac part time. The day we moved in, it was incredible. Because of the community, we decided we would live here full time.”

In designing the 1870 House, Zena and Richard wanted to provide their guests with a whole-house experience, as opposed to renting only a room. She said their bookings have represented larger groups and families.

Having invested in advertising and search engine optimization, Zena said eighty percent of their bookings are from people with no ties to Dowagiac. They are searching for vacations in southwest Michigan within a certain proximity to Chicago or Detroit.

One group in their review wrote, “We’re the type of family that likes to get on the ground, play cards, and have a great time - and this was the perfect place for that.”

“We have received positive reviews from every single booking,” Zena said. “Guests love walking around and experiencing Dowagiac. That’s part of the reason we fell in love with it, too. It’s good to have positive reviews about the house. To also have good reviews about the community reflects well on everyone in this room, your businesses and your energy.”

For more information on the Airbnb, go to StayDowagiac.com and then to 1870 House.com.

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