HARRISONBURG — An iconic Harrisonburg business, the Stonewall Jackson Inn Bed and Breakfast, is in the process of reopening, and behind the helm stands a young married couple — Becca and Joel Graham.
The pair moved to Harrisonburg from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, in October as Becca, 24, got a job as an outpatient registered dietician at Sentara RMH Medical Center.
Joel, 26, is the senior international operations manager for Spikeball, a handball game played using a trampoline.
They rented a room from Wayne Engel, 86, the previous innkeeper, before he stopped taking reservations in 2018.
When Becca and Joel Graham first indicated they would be interested in taking over the inn, Engel was pleased.
“My first reaction was very enthusiastic and positive because they are two very brilliant folks. They’re young, but they bring goodness and energy,” Engel said.
“It’s a great career for a couple that wants to work together and live together and have a lot of fun,” Engel said.
And that’s just what the two were looking for.
“Becca and I have been looking for something we could work on together,” Joel Graham said. “A business or project that we could do that’s something we own [and] and gives us a little more autonomy.”
The inn was a great way for them to accomplish that, he said.
The pair have different strengths they will use to make the inn a success, Becca Graham said.
“Joel has business background and is adept and excited by the business side of things,” such as finance and marketing, she said. “Whereas I enjoy the day-to-day tasks — cooking, cleaning.”
Both Becca and Joel Graham said that their favorite part of their old jobs was interacting with people — something they will definitely carry with them as they move into innkeeping.
“At some point we would definitely love to include a nutrition-education aspect,” Becca Graham said. “Whether it’s using the space to host some community classes or cooking classes.”
The inn will keep its name and not much will change at the outset, Joel Graham said.
“It’s obvious Wayne ran a very successful business here and the last thing we want to do is come in and make a bunch of changes before we learn the goods and the bads,” he said.
Local connections are important with businesses like the Stonewall Jackson, Engel said.
“I think that’s something we’re really looking forward to and going to be seeking out partnerships and any type of relationship with other local businesses,” Becca Graham said.
The idea to reopen the inn was not an impulse decision.
“One of the things that first triggered our interest in this was over Christmas, we were talking to a cousin of mine who they just started renovating a hotel in a small town,” Becca said.
And that cousin wasn’t the first member of the family to work in hospitality.
“My grandparents owned and ran a motel for many, many years long ago,” she said. “I didn’t have really any direct experience with the industry, but we do have some family ties in the industry that have definitely been an inspiration.”
Engel, who still lives at the inn, will give them guidance on how to best operate the business for about six months to a year.
“I think they’ll be very successful and I think they’ll do a very good job,” Engel said. “I think the community will be delighted to have the Stonewall Jackson back in operation.”