New Dowagiac vacation rental hosts Chamber After Hours event

DOWAGIAC — A house at 306 W. Division was the place to be Tuesday night.

Dozens of community members gathered at 1870 House in downtown Dowagiac for the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce’s first Business After Hours event of the year.

The 1870 House is a new short-term vacation rental property owned and operated by city residents Richard Jackson and Zena Burns.

The event, which featured food and drink items from local businesses including Baker’s Rhapsody, Jake’s Country Meats and Sister Lakes Brewing Company, allowed guests to tour the historic property — a five-bedroom whole-home vacation rental that sleeps up to 10.

Community members and business owners alike praised the 1870 House and believe the venue is a boon for the community.

“This is a fabulous space for us to gather in for the first time since COVID and being able to return to gathering,” said Chamber President Kris Soenen, owner of Who Knew? Consignment. “The hostess and host are marvelous, fun people. We’re excited to have them in the community and developing this vacation rental business.”

The property is named after the year it was built, with ownership documents dating back to the 1800s showing the home was built in 1870 for a Frank Jones and retaining most of the original woodwork and detailing today.

Being able to officially “christen” their establishment with community members present was an enjoyable feeling for both Burns, an executive at a tech company working fully remotely, and Jackson, a retired chef. According to Burns, 1870 House is booked through mid-October.

“This has been beyond our expectations,” Burns said. “Especially considering everything that was going on last summer and that we weren’t able to make this level of community connection. To have everyone together in this incredible business community is completely overwhelming.”

After the couple moved to downtown Dowagiac from Chicago in August of last year, they noticed there seemed to be a limited number of good options in town for people to stay in the short term. When the historic home directly across the street from theirs became available, the couple saw an opportunity to market the property as a short-term vacation rental to bring out-of-town guests to the area.

The couple began renovating the house in November and welcomed their first guest in March. The house’s relatively close proximity to major metropolitan areas including Chicago, South Bend and Detroit has brought guests from all over the country to Dowagiac.

“About 80 percent of the people coming have no ties to Dowagiac,” Burns said. “We’ve had people from DC, Chicago, the Detroit area, Alpena. That’s been gratifying for us to not only be able to host people but to host people who aren’t familiar with this community that we’ve fallen in love with.”

With the downtown real estate district close walking distance, Burns and Jackson’s new venture is helping bring money into the city. The property gives each guest a welcome basket that includes a box of candy from Caruso’s, a $10 gift card from The Baker’s Rhapsody, along with information on Dowagiac’s offerings.

“We want people to not just love the community but also spend money in the community,” Burns said. “It’s still early but it seems to be happening.”

The success of 1870 House is just the beginning for Burns and Jackson, who joined with fellow entrepreneurial duos Desmond Lathan and Stephen Westman and Shannon Lyons and Cathy McBride to form the Stay Dowagiac Collective — A group of properties developed to offer guests clean, comfortable and sophisticated places to stay for people looking to experience the community.

More information can be found online at staydowagiac.com.

“The most exciting part about [1870 House] is that it’s not a one-off,” said Mayor Don Lyons. “We have two other groups of investors who have combined their resources and are offering a new opportunity for guest lodging in Dowagiac. For the first time in a generation, there are options for quality places for people to stay in when they’re visiting our community.”

“We’re very excited about Stay Dowagiac,” Burns said. “We feel very fortunate to have fellow like-minded business owners who are enthusiastic as well.”

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