Gordon and Rebecca Clark, the innkeepers of the Davidson Village Inn, have run their business for the last two decades based on one guiding principle.
It comes from a quote by American poet and Civil Rights figure Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The Clarks have worked at the 18-room, European-style inn virtually every day since opening in December 1993. Since then, the couple has had ample opportunity to perfect their brand of hospitality by serving dozens of local and international clients, college trustees, families scoping out the college, authors, actors, educators and political figures.
Past visitors include Bo Jackson, a Heisman Trophy-winner and the only athlete to be named an All-Star in two sports; L.A. Dodgers’ Tommy Lasorda, arguably Major League Baseball’s most enthusiastic and successful manager; Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former president of Costa Rica; Grammy Award-winning musician John Mayer; and the late Timothy Leary, an American psychologist, Harvard professor and influential figure of 1960s psychedelic counterculture.
A good read
The shenanigans these walls could speak of often can be as colorful as the guests themselves.
“It’s like any job; it has its ups and downs, but we’re very fortunate that we have really great guests,” said Rebecca. “It’s rare to have a troublesome guest, but it does happen.”
Gordon recalled Leary complimenting him about a particular selection on the shelf of the inn’s library of vintage and signed books. “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” caught Leary’s eye. It’s an autobiographical account of Thomas De Quincey’s laudanum addiction and its effect on his life.
“He was impressed we had that one,” said Gordon.
Rebecca quickly added, “I was not particularly impressed with him because he smoked in one of our nonsmoking rooms. And it was worse because it was one of those clove cigarettes.”
During late 1990s, a group of 20-something corporate investors from First Union decided to play a late-night game of “fruit baseball” in the inn’s lobby.
“I came in that morning and there was a big orange smashed in the trash can of the bathroom and I see this big (apple) stain on the wall; they were just hurling these things at each other,” said Gordon.
Even still, Rebecca added, “That’s what’s made this special for us: all the people who have stayed with us – some, for many years.”
The Clarks follow the college’s honor code, which pervades the town as well. At one point, they used to leave a key under the doormat for guests who came in after the doors were locked at 11 p.m.
The Clarks keep a packed suitcase for some corporate visitors who come back week after week. Wives have called looking for their husbands, as the Clarks often have better knowledge of business travelers’ whereabouts. Another guest helped the family with some landscaping as a way to unwind.
But the outcomes aren’t always happy ones.
Once the Clarks got a call from Davidson police about a man lying on the grass of the Village Green, in his boxers, in the pouring rain, claiming to be a guest of the inn.
“Yup, he’s ours,” Rebecca recalled telling police. “He was different, but this is Davidson, and eccentric is the norm here sometimes.”
Feel free to ask about “Smiley, the Gator Gynecologist.” The aptly nicknamed, gregarious “Southern gentleman” always had a tale to tell and he never met a stranger, said Rebecca. His refined “Southern Belle” of a wife complemented him well, and the families grew to become lifelong friends after Smiley’s daughter toured and later attended the college.
At the inn, you’re family
The Clarks raised their children while building their business, and they’ve always lived within walking distance of the inn.
Their son, Cameron, was 1 when they opened the doors. Their daughter, Hannah, has been around the inn since she was a week old. Guests often would kindly insist on watching over the kids as the couple worked. A few years ago, Gordon started to offer Pedi-cab tours throughout the town.
Rebecca and Gordon, both in their early 50s, describe the place as a cross between a bed-and-breakfast and a boutique motel. Gordon compares running the inn to constantly preparing to have your parents visit from out of town.
“First you have to get it clean before they come,” he said. “Then, things break, things happen – spills. Now, just magnify that.”
Rebecca added, “You have to do whatever you need to do. There are days where I’m a housekeeper, a maintenance engineer, a decorator. We go to the grocery store almost every day.”
A charming visit
Tommy Lasorda, known for his somewhat cantankerous personality, visited the college for a fundraiser in 2011. In the morning, he’d visit the lobby for breakfast, singing and whistling, loving the spotlight, and entertaining any guests within earshot.
“One of the greatest compliments Davidson received – not just us, but the entire community – came from Tommy’s assistant,” said Rebecca. “He said, ‘he has never ever been as nice, and stayed in such a good mood, as he did while he was in Davidson. This has been the easiest trip I have ever taken with him.’”
Gordon added, “We were able to meet his needs, but I think it came back to the sense, where you’re not just at an inn, but you’re in a place that’s more of a community, and you feel like you’re a guest in someone’s home.”
The Clarks plan to sell the business and retire in the next five to 10 years. They’re banking on finding a young family that’s eager to lay claim to a vibrant landmark.
“We made a choice about our lifestyle, that where we lived and how we raised our children was more important than making a lot of money in the world,” said Rebecca.
“The biggest reason behind our success is the sense of community. People around here don’t care if you’re the most famous person in the world or if you’re the loneliest person in the world. We just tried to create the same environment within the inn that the town has tried to create.”