Will Silverstein-Belden graduated from Keene High School in 2014 and traveled to the West Coast for college. But after one semester at the University of Puget Sound, he returned to the Granite State to get degrees in English literature and environmental and resource economics from the University of New Hampshire. In 2019, he became the sole proprietor of the Elm City Carriage Barn on Main Street. We talked to this young proprietor about how he got into the bed & breakfast business at such a tender age.
Why did you end up coming back to Keene?
My family is super-ingrained in the community. My mom is a second-grade teacher at Franklin, and my dad runs an eco-friendly greeting card company, Tree Free. I wanted to be in Keene, close to my family and to a community that I knew pretty well. When I was 18, I had that sentiment that every 18-year-old has — I wanted to go to the West Coast. At that age, I didn’t value the relationships in my life with my mom and dad, my sisters, and my friends.
When you came back, did you think you would end up running bed and breakfast?
I knew that property management was something that I was interested in, but I never thought I would be running an inn. It’s been trial by fire, and I have been learning as I go, but everyone in Keene, the food inspector, and the fire department, have been really helpful. They are not out to get you but to help you stay within the rules.
How did it feel to come back to Keene and start a business?
I really like Keene because of the network I have here and the way Keene treats small business owners. It was an easy choice. Everyone wants me to succeed. It’s a very welcoming community.
How was your first year in business?
It looks like I am going to survive the first year, which can be the toughest. This is a small capacity inn, with just four rooms, so big days don’t matter as much. On any given day, there might be four people needing a place to stay. For me, it’s about capturing a piece of the market. And this is a great location. I am already booked for graduation and other events related to the college.
Have there been any challenges?
There was no online presence. We had a website, but there was no way to book online when I took over. I also want to open up the space for the community, and I’m trying to think about what that might look like — hosting book clubs, classes, and house concerts, maybe. I’ve also started soundproofing the walls. It’s just basically a barn, after all. And the furnace went out during the coldest part of the year. It’s a big house, and it’s really expensive to heat and cool and really hard to plow the driveway.
How did you finance your purchase of the bed & breakfast?
I went through the Commercial Lending Department at The Savings Bank of Walpole.
Have you received helpful advice from the community?
Everyone will give you this or that advice. But the business aspect of things is what I really need advice on, like what to do when filing taxes. I get a lot of advice from my guests. At the end of the stay, I ask them what types of things I should be working on in the offseason. They’d like a list of vital information and my suggestions for restaurants. That’s easy enough. It’s also specific to the continental breakfast I serve. I do the shopping every day, and if they want something different, I get it.
So it’s just you running the show?
Yes. I do all the housekeeping and cleaning. Occasionally, I will get someone to cover for me, usually my mom or dad. They’ve been taking one weekend a month to help me keep my balance. I like to travel and hike and leave my phone behind, but that’s not always possible when you’re running a business.
What advice would you give to someone your age or younger who might be thinking about leaving Keene for greener pastures?
When you’re 18, you have to discover for yourself what you want to do with your life. But if you are specifically thinking about starting a business, the biggest piece of advice I could give is you should start somewhere where you have a foundation of people already in place. You have to have a million different people to help solve problems that might come up.
How has it been as a young business owner in Keene?
Keene is very pro-business. They don’t make you jump through a lot of hoops. A larger company with a lot of capital can jump through those hoops pretty easily. But when you are young, you don’t have a lot of money to throw around. Keene is great for cultivating those types of entrepreneurs. I couldn’t speak highly enough about the business climate in Keene.
Is there anything about Keene you would change if you could?
I wish there were more young people here. The live music scene in Keene is subpar. There’s not a lot of young people here. I think that’s what stops people from coming to Keene. There are a lot of jobs here, but ultimately, people want to go out and meet other people, maybe partners. Keene is not a great place to meet a partner. That’s one of the things that keeps a lot of my friends from coming back.