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Be our guest

FRANKLIN LIVING—

A block from downtown Red Bay, The Fancher Guesthouse – described as “cottage/farmhouse style lodging” on its Airbnb listing – has become a favorite relaxing getaway for many who have come to know it. Open since 2017, it’s owned and operated by Mayor Charlene Fancher and husband Jerry Fancher.

The Fanchers first moved into the main house on the property in 2015. Built in 1929, the home boasts a storied history: It started out as a one-family cottage-style home owned by Dr. Grady Jordan, the first dentist in Red Bay. His daughter, known as Miss Arva, used to run a Sunday school class out of what is now the guesthouse, and she also liked to entertain there.

Local children enjoyed going there after school, and Miss Arva always had something yummy baked up to share. In homage to this history, the Fanchers said they enjoy feeling they’re carrying on the tradition she started of using the Guesthouse for hospitality. They feel she would approve – and they even have her recipes, something they consider an honor to own.

Conveniently located in the heart of downtown, The Fancher Guesthouse is cozy, beautifully decorated and well-supplied; however, it had much humbler beginnings. At the time the Fanchers acquired the property, the guesthouse building was half of a single-car carport the Fanchers describe as having been “in pretty rough shape” and “small, even for one car.” The rest of it was dedicated to storage.

“It was pretty old and needed renovation, but we fell in love with its possibilities,” said Charlene Fancher. “We initially created this guesthouse primarily for our son and daughter-in-law to have a place to stay when they came home for visits. After about a year and a half, they decided to move back to Red Bay. Our daughter lives in Vina, so we have both our children nearby now.”

With the need for a family guesthouse waning, the Fanchers began considering their options for renting it to out-of-town guests. Friends and family were still staying in the guesthouse at times, but Fancher said it was mostly “just sitting there,” so they decided to try opening it to the public.

“We thought we’d give it a whirl and just see what happened,” said Fancher. “We both work a lot, and we have four grandkids, so we wondered if we had time for a guesthouse too, but we make time for it. We love having it.

“We did a lot of work and made some changes and finally welcomed our first guest,” she explained. “It wasn’t an Airbnb at first. We added that later to help with advertising.”

From her experiences serving on the city council and as mayor, Fancher said she knows firsthand there are times when visitors to Red Bay can’t find a place to stay, so she hoped the guesthouse could help fill a need and make it easier to keep people in town to more fully discover all the area has to offer.

She said she makes sure guests feel welcome and safe in Red Bay, and she doesn’t hesitate to recommend alternative local lodging for them if the guesthouse is already booked.

Fancher said many guests say the guesthouse seems bigger on the inside than they expect when they pull up and see it from the driveway. Amenities include a king-size Sleep Number bed, kitchenette with sink, mini-fridge and microwave, private laundry room, bathroom, Wi-Fi, television, dining table and access to the backyard, including a grill, gazebo and sitting area including a large umbrella for shade.

“Some of the people want to get to know us a little,” Fancher said, “and others just want to be left alone. We want everyone to be comfortable and have the kind of experience they are looking for. If they want to be left alone, they can definitely get that here.”

Pets are welcome at the guesthouse. “We love pets,” Fancher said, “and there’s a fence, something that’s important to a lot of our motorhome guests, as the majority of them have pets.” With Tiffin Motorhomes being based in downtown Red Bay, Fancher guests are often motorhome owners staying in the area to have their motorhomes built or repaired. Employees of the company sometimes stay there, as well.

The Fanchers said they have met many new friends through running the guesthouse, and they still host friends and family there as well. They said it works well because guests have the privacy of their own place, but the Fanchers are right next door if anything is needed or if guests want to socialize.

“We’ve had the opportunity to meet a whole lot of different folks,” said Jerry Fancher. “We get a lot of return customers, often the motorhome folks, especially in spring and summer. Some are having routine service or extensive repair work done and have to leave their motorhome for extended periods, so this gives them somewhere they can enjoy staying while they have that done.”

He said some guests have stayed as long as a month while their motorhome was being built. “They’ll go in to Tiffin and check on things and be involved in the process every step of the way. The motorhome folks have their own community where they share information, and we got a lot of business through word of mouth that way.

“We also get a lot of hikers,” he added. “They’ll go to the Dismals and Rattlesnake Saloon and Tishomingo State Park. There are lots of places of interest, both right around Red Bay and in the greater North Alabama area.

“People come for lots of reasons. Some are fans of Tammy Wynette or learn about her after they get here. We get fans of Elvis staying here while visiting Tupelo to see his birthplace and people enjoying the Bear Creek Lakes.”

Some of their guests are people with friends and family in the area coming back for a visit, and others are just people looking for a comfortable place to get away and relax. “Some people call us or message through Airbnb, and they’ve never even heard of Red Bay previously. They just want somewhere quiet where they can have some peace.”

The Fanchers estimate they’ve had at least 75-100 guests so far, though they haven’t kept precise records. Some have been from Texas or other Southern states, California and even New York.

“One lady came from Washington D.C.,” Fancher said. “She was visiting family in Birmingham and just wanted somewhere quiet to relax. We never saw her the whole time she was here, but when she left, she said it was the best rest she had gotten in a long time and that she would definitely be back.”

Another guest was a man who had lived in Alaska and worked on the pipeline. “You never know what kind of people will find their way here. We’ve met a lot of interesting folks.

“When we first bought this house, we never imagined we’d be running a guesthouse, but we want to promote Red Bay, and this is a good way to do that, and it’s a nice side project we work on together. We love meeting people, and it’s been a very good experience. We have never had a bad guest or a complaint.”

“We always hope guests will want to return. A lot of them fall in love with Red Bay while they’re here, and that’s what we like to see. Our community has a lot to offer.”

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