A place to land, a place to learn something new, to taste, to experience… this is what we seek when we vacation.
Just over two years ago, my wife and I took the leap and purchased the Colony Hospital in historic Bishop Hill, Illinois, about an hour northwest of Peoria. It served as a hospital through the Civil War and was converted to a B&B about 20 years ago. The entire town is a registered historic landmark, with three restaurants, six museums, and more than a dozen art galleries and craft shops, where you can watch the artists at work.
We love this town. We have felt warmly welcomed and found many ways to weave ourselves into this tight-knit community of 120 souls. We have also learned much about tourism and running a small business that is applicable to any business of any size. Please allow us to share few ideas:
Partnerships Make All the Difference
We moved in February during a record-breaking cold spell. Because the place had been vacant for a while, we did not want to turn on the water until we were actually living there. So, while we were cleaning and getting things ready for the big move, we ate lunch every day at The Filling Station. The owners noticed, and asked about our situation. Then without hesitation, they gave us keys to their restaurant. They said we could use the restrooms any time, 24/7, until we were settled.
This kind of unconditional support of the new kids in town was overwhelming… and everywhere!
And we have returned the favor a hundred-fold by sending many of our guests to their Friday night dinners. We purchase our bread and pies at The Bishop Hill Bakery. We serve guests with pottery made in town. We sweep the floors with a Bishop Hill broom and serve produce from local farms.
We are financially vested in the success of our neighbors. We know that working together with common goals allows all of our local businesses to flourish. We also know that if Bishop Hill does well, the Twinflower Inn will also do well.
Social Media Marketing
One way we have built stronger partnerships is through social media. Even before we moved, we built a web presence at TwinflowerInn.com. We helped to build HistoricHenryCounty.com and are currently working on VisitBishopHill.com. We also manage three Facebook pages.
More importantly, we have made a strong effort to cross-link these pages while educating other businesses in town about the importance of sharing and liking each others’ posts so we can get more views for everybody. Working together, we have doubled the number of page likes for many of the shops in town, directly converting this social media presence into reservations sold at the Inn, tickets purchased for concerts, arts and crafts moving off the shelves. And yes, the irony of an historic village moving towards the cutting edge of modern marketing is not lost on members of the Bishop Hill Arts Council. Many businesses reported having their best Christmas season in 10 years, pumping new vigor into Lucia Nights, one of the town’s largest annual events.
The Arts Are an Economic Engine
A town this size does not have a chamber of commerce—the Bishop Hill Arts Council is the economic engine that promotes tourism. It produces the visitor’s guide, manages the websites and sponsors a series of annual events.
Bishop Hill is an events-driven town, with an event every other weekend, year-round. Our town square has a gorgeous gazebo, often encircled with straw bales and lawn chairs for a concert or historic re-enactment. There is a writer’s retreat in January, the Swedish Stomp footrace in April, a quilt show and folk/roots music festival in May, antique fair in July, a clay and fiber fest and Chautauqua in August, Jorbruksdagarna (agricultural fair) in September, ghost stories around the bonfire in October, and Julmarknad (Swedish Christmas market) in November and December, just to name a few.
Each business or museum organizes and hosts one or two of the events, but everyone pitches in to help set up, clean up, market and promote the various celebrations. This partnership is great for the bed and breakfast, because it means we are full many weekends, with guests often booking the same room for the same event for next year.
The artists in town know these events bring foot traffic into their shops. It is because of these events—and these partnerships—that Bishop Hill is a great town to visit and wonderful place to live—a place where artists know there will be regular foot traffic in their shops. (We actually have one vacant storefront with a cozy studio apartment above if you know anyone looking for a second career!) We also know these events help us garnish both regional and national attention, offering countless opportunities for fresh marketing. Yet we continue to reach out to our nearby neighbors as the perfect place for a local getaway, striving for that balance between quality of life for the locals and tourist destination for those further afield.
A place to land, a place to learn something new, to taste, to experience… this is what we seek when we vacation. Bishop Hill is a town out of a fairy tale. As you walk the streets of this historic village, you see much of what the Swedish immigrants built more than 160 years ago. Stepping out of the everyday and into something extraordinary where you can write your own story… this is the goal of every destination. Though other towns cannot recreate what Bishop Hill was born with, how can you dig beneath the surface to reveal the buried treasures of your own town, be it history or natural splendor? Bishop Hill has both.
Our next goal is to market destination weddings. Building on these partnerships—and our Swedish roots—we are offering a range of wedding packages; each comes with a wonderful array of locally-made crafts, locally-grown food and flowers, and a special experience only Bishop Hill can offer.
From “Come See“ to “Come Do“
Shopping has been and always will be a mainstay of tourism. There is something about our basic makeup that needs to hunt and gather. With more than a dozen unique shops filled with locally-made crafts, Bishop Hill is a haven for shoppers.
We also have six museums for those who relish history, each telling a unique story, from the Swedish immigrants’ journey to the agricultural implements they used. Our town square is lined with the most amazing sugar maple in the fall, and you could not imagine a more picturesque Christmas card setting than Bishop Hill with a light snow.
Beyond grazing through shops and museums, visitors are looking for an authentic experience. Bishop Hill has been serving up authenticity since 1846. Many of the craft shops now offer workshops so you can make or glaze a piece of pottery; learn quilting, rug making or felting; build a brick or make sorghum—all hands-on experiences designed to nurture creativity and immerse you in history.
The motto for our bed and breakfast is “Your Homebase for Adventure!” Beyond creating links with area golf courses and canoe rentals, organizing bird watching, planning weddings and arranging crafts workshops, our primary goal is to help you make memories. If you leave The Twinflower Inn with a story to tell, then you are also a partner in helping us sing the praises of this Utopia on the prairie! iBi
Brian “Fox” Ellis is a storyteller, author, innkeeper and consultant on many tourism projects. Learn more about the Twinflower Inn at twinflowerinn.com.