ABINGDON, Va. — An Abingdon businesswoman has found a way to turn her historic home into more than just a place to stay.

It’s also a place to find community connections.

Donna Carneal, who recently converted the old Napp house on Main Street into an Airbnb location for short-term rental, said she is building community by offering a venue for people to share their talents.

The owner of Gather Inn is opening her home to one-of-a-kind classes, workshops, yoga sessions, meetings and short-stay accommodations — and, as its name implies, a place to gather.

“It’s an opportunity for local people to share their expertise, skills and hobbies,” said the owner. The inn is listed on Airbnb, an online marketplace service that provides an alternative to hotels.

On Thursday mornings at 11, senior citizens meet downstairs at 155 E. Main St. for chair yoga taught by trainer and instructor Libby Woolwine.

“It’s such a fun and casual time. It’s so good for them to move and be social,” said Carneal.

The new owner has hosted lessons in meditation, essential oils and even succulent wreath-making. She recently hosted three dance parties where guests learned the introductory steps to bachata, shag and the river waltz line dance.

“We just roll the rugs back in the living room downstairs and get moving.”

Building productive and collaborative relationships is important to Carneal, who became involved in community activities as soon as she moved to Abingdon three years ago. “I joined the Coomes Recreation Center, and I take bridge, art, singing and guitar classes.”

Many of her new acquaintances are helping her start community-building events at her business.

Rex Carter, who is running in the election for sheriff in Washington County, spoke to a small group of community members at the inn a few weeks ago. “It was a good meeting,” said Carneal.

“A few weeks ago, a family rented the entire house for a graduation party.

“I love that energy of people collaborating, and I love sharing and being resourceful.

“I think our education system is not doing enough to encourage people to use their God-given gifts — but just to get a good job.

“I want this inn to be a fun place, a party place where people’s gifts can shine.”

Carneal is planning events that will attract diverse community interests.

Upcoming events at the Gather Inn include a pilates class for men taught by Kristi Slaughter at 7:30 p.m. on June 12.

At 6:30 p.m. on June 18, she will host a Mastermind group meeting that focuses on sharpening business and personal skills. “It will be a great resource for startup and existing businesses,” said Carneal.

Building a business

Carneal, who has lived 38 years away from her Richlands native home, didn’t waste any time becoming a business owner after she moved to Abingdon in 2016.

While living in an upstairs apartment in the Greenway Trigg building, she often passed time looking out a stained-glass window on the town below.

“I actually saw the realtors nail a ‘for sale’ sign on this house. The wheels in my head started turning, and everything just seemed to fall into place. I was able to purchase the house last August.

“For seven years, I had lived on a small farm in Luther, Oklahoma, before moving back to Southwest Virginia. I could easily see myself transitioning to a Main Street residence, and I thought it would be nice to live upstairs and have a business downstairs,” Carneal said.

Her first idea was to make the antique house a coffee shop. Then she wrestled with the idea of creating a co-working space, a business model where individuals work independently or collaboratively in shared office space.

Finally, she concluded that opening an Airbnb would generate the money she needed while she worked on building a gathering space for the community.

Renovations to the century-old house included painting all of the walls, refinishing the original pine wood floors and landscaping.

This spring, she began renting three of the four upstairs bedrooms. Carneal lives in one of the bedrooms.

Bedrooms are decorated in a simple vintage style. A sitting and television room connects to one bedroom and private bath.

One of her favorite rooms is a sleeping porch, a deck that was converted into an enclosed room for sleeping outside during warm months.

“I would describe the decor in the inn as a simple, modern style with some vintage elements,” she said.

“The business has taken off,” said Carneal, who estimated she’s rented to dozens of guests — some as far away as California — since she completed renovations in March. Most of her guests find her business on the Airbnb computer application.

“Ten years ago, people who stayed at bed and breakfast facilities enjoyed sitting down to breakfast with the owners each morning,” Carneal said.

“The Airbnb model has changed that. Most of my guests go out for breakfast and coffee, even though I furnish a coffee bar upstairs.”

Hosts of Airbnb can have little to no interaction with their guests, who are given passwords or lock codes to their rooms before they arrive, and come and go throughout their visits.

“But I enjoy meeting my guests. Many of my overnight guests participate in the classes and workshops I offer to the community.

“I love to see people sharing and being resourceful.”

For a schedule of events hosted by Gather Inn, visit the business on Facebook.

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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