"When I first took over Deer Creek Inn, I was told it had a reputation for elegance and romance," said owner Eileen Strangfeld, raising an eyebrow. "I don't do elegance and romance very well."
So when Strangfeld and her husband Ken took over the Nevada City bed-and-breakfast inn in May 2004, they aimed instead for elegance and comfort - the kind of place with a mini refrigerator stocked with midnight snacks, and where guests sit on barstools next to the stove for breakfast, instead of in the formal dining room.
But that chapter is about to close.
The inn is preparing to shut down Dec. 23 after being on the market on and off since 2007, a casualty of a recession that has bottomed out on paper, but continues to pummel downtown Nevada City.
"We bought it at the height of the market, so we were hit hard," Eileen Strangfeld said. "We've reached our credit limit."
After Deer Creek Inn closes, Nevada City's downtown B&B population will be down to four - a drop from around a dozen in the 1990s. A moratorium on new inns, owners reconverting B&Bs to private residences, and an economy that continues to be sluggish have contributed to the dwindling numbers.
The Strangfelds plan to ride out the busy pre-Christmas season before moving to be with their five grandchildren outside of Portland, Ore., as soon as the historic home sells. They're hoping that happens quickly, and have cut the price in half from when it was on the market a few years ago.
Deer Creek Inn, which includes seven bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms, is listed for $850,000.
Built in the early 1870s, Deer Creek Inn is also known as the Colley House - named after James Colley, who owned Colley's Candies, Tamales and Ice Cream downtown and also served as the county postmaster general, said Ken Strangfeld, the resident history buff.
Each of the guest rooms are named for former female owners of the home. The property deed was originally in Ida Colley's name, not her husband James' name; as a property owner, Ida was allowed to vote on certain measures before women won universal suffrage.
"Nevada City was a hotbed for suffragettes," Eileen Strangfeld said.
Ken, a certified public accountant, and Eileen, a writer, found common ground in storytelling. Their visits to the area as part of the Sierra Storytelling Festival introduced them to Nevada City.
When Ken's job as chief accountant at the Contra Costa Community College District evaporated amid budget cuts, the former Bay Area residents decided it was time for something new.
"I've always wanted to own and operate a B&B," Eileen said. "The setting was beautiful - I've always wanted a water feature."
They snapped up Deer Creek Inn, a Queen Anne Victorian-style home bordered by Manzanita and Deer creeks. Former owner Sheryl Martin had already completed an award-winning historic renovation on the property in 1993.
The Strangfelds are natural hosts. A photo album of guests to the B&B is labeled "friends." Guests sit at the island in the kitchen in the morning, talking with Eileen while she cooks breakfast - more like family than paying customers.
"Some people come back year after year," she said.
They also try to buy locally as often as possible. One of their trademarks is serving local wines every evening at 5 p.m.
The next owner may want Deer Creek Inn as a private residence, but the Strangfelds say they hope it stays as a B&B. It's already won The Union's Best of Nevada County award multiple times in the past few years.
"I'm hoping that new people can build on it," Eileen said.
The chamber, which draws funding from hotel tax revenue and touts charming B&Bs to tourists, hopes for the same.
"People think of (Nevada City) as a Victorian town, and they want to stay in a place like that," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Manager Cathy Whittlesey. The Strangfelds "had a wonderful inn, and we hate to see it go."
To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail email@example.com or call (530) 477-4247.