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A Working Retirement - Owning the 26 room Westlake Waterfront Inn
 in Hardy, Virginia

By Courtney Cutright, The Roanoke Times, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

July 28, 2006 - Life has changed a lot since Ron Webb was a 9-year-old working cabbage patches on a Carroll County farm.

The changes began when Webb purchased a couple of waterfront lots at Smith Mountain Lake many years ago when the land still was affordable.

"I paid for it in 10 years and held it for 15," he said. "The longer I owned it, the less likely it became I'd build on it."

Webb realized he couldn't build a house comparable to the property value and ultimately decided to sell.

After some 30 years of operating a maintenance company that services strip malls, Webb decided to shift gears and assume the role of an innkeeper.

"We had no experience in this business," he said. "It's not necessarily a retirement, but a working retirement."

Webb put the money from the real estate sale into a capital gains venture to purchase the Westlake Waterfront Inn in Hardy a little more than two years ago. His wife, Wanda, and daughter Liz help him manage the 26-room inn.

"It's kind of a cooperative thing," he said.

Located on a point at the end of Morewood Road near Vieira's Restaurant and Indian Point Bait & Tackle, the inn is cozy and serene -- a place where guests play chess on picnic tables on the lawn and children jump off the docks and into the water.

The Webbs live in two of the rooms, and the remaining 24 are rented to guests.

"Our typical guest, if there is one, is a couple," Webb said.

Most rooms have two queen beds, microwaves, coffee maker, mini-refrigerators, alarm clocks and televisions.

"We equip them as something we would want to turn the key on," he said.

The rooms at the inn are usually booked most weekends, often with guests visiting the area to scope out real estate. In the past, guests have visited from as far as Australia, England, Portugal and Russia.

"They [guests] say they love it because it feels like home," Liz Webb said.

The Webbs' dog, Big Lots, or Lotsy for short, doubles as the inn's mascot and security guard. Liz Webb's Rottweiler Zeus also lives at the inn.

"We get pictures of kids with the pets, and sometimes guests call back to check on Lotsy," she said.

Tom DaRoja of Poquoson returned to the lake with nine family members earlier this month after first visiting the area four or five years ago. Westlake Waterfront Inn was the first place he called when planning the trip.

"We called a couple of other places, but came here because this guy [Ron Webb] was so nice," DaRoja said.

Most of the inn's business comes from word-of-mouth referrals and, more recently, from a Web site designed by the Webbs' son, Andrew.

Franklin County code prevents the Webbs from installing any signage along Virginia 122 to inform travelers of the inn.

"The Web site has been our salvation," Ron Webb said. "It's difficult when you're trying to survive and make a living in a small place like this."

A self-proclaimed good old country boy, he is not interested in high-rise condominiums or swimming pools.

"We want to keep it very similar" to what is already here, he said.

One change the Webbs did make was the installation of a gazebo on the point.

"It was just a big bare point so we added it to improve appearances," Webb said.

A previous guest called in the winter and inquired about holding a wedding in the gazebo, but the inn has not hosted any weddings yet.

But there has been at least one engagement, according to the inn's online guestbook.

For more information, call (540) 721-3307 or visit www.westlake-waterfront-inn.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Roanoke Times, Va.

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