Since 1990, Rachael Solem has been owner and manager of Irving House, a local Cambridge bed and breakfast. Through running this guesthouse and developing Turner House and Harding House, Rachael has become an active member of the Cambridge business community including leadership on the boards of Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Harvard Square Business Association and Cambridge Local First.
Up on the dusty shelves of my favorite office supply store I spied a board game custom made for Our Fair City, “Cambridge-opoly,” featuring many locally owned independent businesses. Several businesses on the board no longer exist; happily, many remain with us.
Like the squares represented on the Monopoly board, I own the Irving House, a local bed and breakfast offering cozy accommodations and a warm and friendly atmosphere in the heart of Harvard Square. Guests who find their way to us appreciate our hominess and the convenience to bustling neighborhood squares: Central, Inman and Harvard. To ensure the best experience, we tell guests about the local flavors they can find in our neighboring restaurants, shops, museums and theaters. It’s that local attention that enables our guests to explore world-class live entertainment or find just the right gift in a lovely nearby clothing shop. When this happens, we know we have succeeded in hosting them properly.
Irving House is proudly run as one of the green hotels in Harvard Square. Green innkeeping means that we focus on energy and water efficiency, and seek creative low-impact ways to renovate our rooms. Running an eco-conscious business takes constant attention to new technologies, our aging house, staff training and guest engagement. We look for ways that our environmentally conscious operations can be on display, so it was a sad moment when I heard that our roof top solar panels would be better used for heating hot water than providing electricity for plug in cars, which would have been a more obvious demonstration of our commitment. But it was a fine moment when I got a call from my recycling vendor asking if I could help them start a composting route. I called my neighboring restaurants, caterers and florists to engage them in this effort so a truck could efficiently fill up in mid Cambridge. And we’ve found that composting at breakfast is a very appreciated initiative among our guests.
As a local business owner, I look to marketing to help differentiate the Irving House beyond simply being “local” or “green.” Marketing is where we can be creative and have fun. While I have tried to be organized with marketing data and budgets, I always leave room to experiment. For many years we have given books away, stamped ‘from the giving library of Irving House…’ and we offer post cards for free, paying the postage to anywhere in the world. There is not a shred of data that supports continuing these offers for financial reasons, but it is not about the referrals or the marketing that they provide, but rather the local experience we get to provide for our guests. I love receiving books from guests who feel they want to give back to our library, and writing notes to guests who tell us they found the perfect book, one they had been seeking for years, right in their room at our house! It is because I can have this personal connection with our guests and, with my staff, that I continue to love being in business.
As I look from the Cambridge-opoly board to my neighborhood street, I think fondly on the local businesses that are booming in our small city. After more than 75 years, our quaint neighborhood office supply shop, University Stationary, is moving across the street to a new building. The sandwich shop expanding into their old space is Darwin’s, locally owned and operated with their third location in Cambridge, serving fabulous sandwiches and salads. If the next enterprising person comes along asking if I want Irving House to be on a new Cambridge-opoly board, I will gladly participate. The game may be silly, but I love being a contributor to the cultural life of this lively city.