Inn bets its reputation on Southern hospitality

Published 12:00 pm Friday, December 24, 2021

A hometown inn is celebrating a decade in business.

A business can become a fixture in a town’s downtown for a myriad of reasons. Maybe its long existence created a narrative that keeps it on the locals’ radar. On the other hand, a famous (or infamous) history can long be told again and again until the story is taller than any other tale. And maybe, just maybe, the reason a business flourishes is because of what it tries to be, and then becomes just that.

That’s the story of The Inn on Whitworth in Brookhaven.

John Lynch and Jeff Doremus became interested in the building at 210 S. Whitworth Ave. that had housed Pat Hennington’s Progressive Men’s clothes store for, well, “forever.” They bought the building with the intention to one day make it an inn.

Why an inn? It’s quite simple — Lynch and his wife liked to go traveling around, looking for interesting places to stay. One trip brought them to a charming inn in Ripley, Mississippi. So charmed was John that he though he’d like to do the same thing one day — own an inn.

But before that could happen, renovations were needed. Lynch had bought a building before that he renovated into his offices and then sold when some people saw the place and wanted it for themselves. So Lynch knew he could renovate again — he seemed to have a knack for it.

Renovations began in April 2011 and lasted eight months, the inn’s website states. “With Mathis Construction as the general contractor, local doctor and artist Kim Sessums as the design consultant, and a group of five local businessmen as investors, a vision for The Inn on Whitworth was created and brought to life.”

Central Baptist Church moved into the space as a rental while its new church was being built near KDMC. All the while, Lynch and his partners worked together to get the place up to par. Sessums designed the interior of the inn, now called the Inn on Whitworth, and another artist, Ed Williford, has his work displayed there as well.

The inn opened in 2011. Though it started out with five owners, Dr. Shannon Patterson is Lynch’s only current partner in the venture, which consists of two floors, one with regular rooms and upstairs rooms set up like small apartments. Those upstairs rooms are now used mainly for extended-stay customers, though all are rentable as one-night accommodations when available.

Innkeeper Sallie Williford, Ed’s sister and Lynch’s sister-in-law, says the hotel has organically morphed into one entity, rather than one of an inn and one a business of apartments. There are 14 units and they recently added a conference room after so many requests by past guests who wanted to be able to use a space to host their own events.

But why is the inn still going strong after 10 years — and located deep in a downtown, far from an interstate? Williford said it’s all about the feeling you get when you choose to stay there.

“It’s a really great place to sleep,” she said with burst of laughter before getting more serious. “[At a chain hotel], you miss the local flavor of a place; it doesn’t reflect the town it’s in. The Inn on Whitworth does. It’s on a smaller scale, personable and friendly. Our motto is ‘Where art and architecture meet Southern hospitality.’”

And Williford believes that’s an integral part of the inn’s charm.

“The building was built in 1895,” she said. “It has the history and the dignity of old buildings. It has the original heart-pine hardwood floors and bead board ceilings. It may be old, but it’s still carrying on.”

Williford said the inn has been home for a night, or for several, to people from all over the world — China, Japan, Germany, Australia and beyond. Whether for pleasure or on business, its guests walk into a treasure set in small-town America, something Williford is proud of.

“The inn is just one part of Brookhaven, and we want to represent Brookhaven,” she said of the inn, with its glorious lobby flooded with natural light and an original 19th century skylight towering 30 feet above.

“We want [visitors] to be impressed with [the inn and with the town]. Our inn brings them downtown for that local flavor, for the vibrant small town with local businesses doing good.

“People find that attractive. People who are from Brookhaven come back and they feel proud of how good this town is doing.”

In fact, some people feel so secure and safe at the inn, which boasts 18-inch fire walls, whenever bad weather is on the way, especially during tornado weather, they check in.

“They feel more secure here,” Williford said with a smile in her voice of the local family. “And we welcome them.”

And who can blame them? That building’s been there much more than a decade. Perhaps the inn will be, too.