Community Stories

Airbnb ‘Superhosts’ Revitalize North Alabama Downtown

The good folks of New Market, Alabama, weren’t quite sure what to make of it when Whitney and Bethany Dean moved into “Winchester Manor” on the corner of Winchester and New Market Roads.  

Previous owners resurrected Winchester Manor as an impressive edifice, but all attempts to turn it into a paying enterprise as a bed-and-breakfast and/or a wedding venue failed. All the gorgeous landscaping, loving care and venture capital in the world couldn’t make a go of the old place. 

Part of the problem was downtown New Market itself.  

Taking on the World

Once a hopping trade center for local farmers and sporting the title “The Watercress Capital of the World,” New Market looked vastly different from its 1800s younger self when the Deans hit town in 2013. A fire had reduced much of downtown’s square footage to rubble. Four businesses stood within walking distance. One was a drug store. Another was a gas station that looked like an armed robbery was not only imminent, but probably in progress. 

It’s possible, though, Whitney and Bethany imbibed a glass-half-full spirit from the other 50% of walkable downtown. The New Market Restaurant offers superb cheeseburgers, onion rings and country-fried steak. New Market BBQ is so consistently excellent that closing time is understood to be “when we sell out.” 

With great optimism, the Deans began their adventure by building Winchester Manor into a wedding venue — this time, the venture was successful. Maybe it’s because they included a honeymoon cottage on the grounds. The cottage proved so squealingly adorable that it rocketed to first place among Airbnb listings in Alabama. 

With that success under their belts, the Deans were ready for the world.

A Little Strange, But It Works

Next they opened The Loft, in an old barn on Winchester Manor property. It’s a bright, airy space with so much elbow room that the listing warns multiple times, in no uncertain terms, “No parties or events on the premises.” 

Probably the most spectacular of the Deans’ undertakings is The Vault. As the name implies, this is a cavernous section of a 1926 bank, featuring pressed-tin ceilings and exposed brick playing peekaboo through pristine, snow-white plaster. Here, too, space is ample. Prohibitions against rollerskating might be in order. 

Guest reviews of their recently opened “Teller’s Quarters” held at a unanimous 5.0 out of 5 stars. All of the Dean’s properties hovered in the 4.9 star range. Their status as superhosts was firmly established. Now, the Deans made their boldest move yet ― The Spartan Glamper. They promised a unique experience, and they weren’t kidding. 

Fashioned from riveted aircraft aluminum similar to the better-known Airstream, the Spartan travel trailer is notable for its dashing, forward-canted front window. Inside, the astonishingly well-preserved golden-brown paneling is complemented by rugs and piles of pillows and throws. One feature gets a special mention. 

“The bathroom is an all in one,” reads the listing, “so the shower, vanity and toilet are all in one space … a little strange, but hey, it works! And it’s original to how they were made, so we just couldn’t get rid of it.” 

Past Is Prologue 

Understanding the challenges and opportunities of their new hometown, Whitney and Bethany succeeded where others failed. They have an eye for quirky detail, the talent to turn raw spaces into inviting havens, a golden touch with guests, and the business savvy to make it all pay off. 

For decades, the 1,000 or so residents of New Market pursued a love-hate relationship with progress. While they commute every day to high-tech jobs in Huntsville, they value a town largely unmarred by the frantic noise of Rocket City, USA. 

“People are looking for an experience,” Whitney said to AL.com. “They don’t want to stay in a hotel. They want to eat dinner in a bank vault, stay in a weird downtown, in a place where you can get away but not go too far away from a major city. It’s just 25 minutes from here to a spaceship.” 

And, they might add, just a short walk to a really snazzy travel trailer. 

About the author

Brad Hall

Brad Hall

Brad Hall is a pastor and the author of "Lousy Roger and Other Tales: A collection of Lectionary-based Sermons," available on Amazon.com. In 2014, after 27 years of courtship, he married pop culture scholar Deborah Ann Miller. They share a place with two dogs, Scotty and Demitasse, and two cats, Quirkie and Brucie.

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