Talking Shop: Eldon Nattier, innkeeper, Rose Bed Inn, took a long and winding road to get where he is today

Monday, December 28, 2009
Rose Ben Inn owner Eldon Nattier in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

Eldon Nattier has worn many hats in his life, including real estate agent, gas station attendant, teacher and, for the last 10 years, innkeeper of the Rose Bed Inn. Nattier and chef James Coley purchased the early 20th-century-era home at 611 S. Sprigg St. in 1995 and renovated it as a bed and breakfast. Business reporter Brian Blackwell sat down at the inn with Nattier to learn more about his life and how the Southern Illinois native became innkeeper of the Rose Bed Inn.

Q: What was life like for you as a boy and young man?

A: We moved from city to city when I was young, since my dad, Wayne, was a General Baptist minister. He would take rural churches in different towns, and by the time I was 12 he became the assistant director of the General Baptist World headquarters in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

Q: What made you decide to leave Poplar Bluff?

A: Three days after graduation I left and attended Oakland City General Baptist College in Illinois because I got a scholarship. Two years later I dropped out. It was mutual between the college and me. I went back to Poplar Bluff. At 19 I started buying real estate and attending Southeast Missouri State. Since I had real estate in Poplar Bluff I lived in a mobile home so I could be halfway between college and Poplar Bluff. During that time I pumped gas at a Phillips 66 station in Miner, Mo., which put me through college. After that I taught school for two years at Fisk, Mo. I hate teaching and decided to go into full-time real estate.

Q: What made real estate so appealing?

A: It's Donald Trump's thing. It's the art of the deal. It goes back to when I first moved to Poplar Bluff. I was the poor kid who had two pair of jeans and shirts made from feed sacks that fed chickens. To get to school I walked by Joe Hefner's house each day. I asked him how he got what he had. He said, "Son, you buy anything you can buy cheap that you can make money on and trade for anything you can trade for and sell." I've lived by that principle. That has always stuck with me. His idea of buying, selling and trading and J.C. Penney's morals have been my two mainstays. I got ahold of how J.C. Penney started his business. J.C. Penney was one of the poorest but most honorable businessmen. He had problems in getting his product together. When he started his first store he didn't have enough merchandise. He filled his store with items and boxes to make it look more full. If people weren't happy he'd exchange [the item] even if it cost him money. His principle was, the customer was always right, and make the customer happy. Those two things have always been the foundation of my two business principles.

Q: Who are some of your more interesting guests?

A: We've had the comedian Ant, Chautauqua tribe, a lot of foreign guests that have been absolutely delightful, musical artist Melissa Etheridge and just a lot of average people that have had wonderful, wonderful stories to tell. We've had couples come here with heavy burdens and they leave here joyous. James and I are always upbeat and positive. I think that shows through because we love what we do. Most innkeepers get burned out after four to five years. We live on the top floor and rarely leave the property and town. If we didn't love it, we wouldn't be here. We get tired but it doesn't keep us from having a good time. We have people who come in here and hug us and say, "We're home." They have their room. People call and ask if their room is ready that night. The worst thing is we're supposed to remember out of 18 rooms which [one] is their room.

Q: And what about your two permanent house guests, Alex and Mia, who are supposedly ghosts?

A: When we first bought the property I had a local realtor who gave me a chuckle [when she] asked if I had met the other person who lives in the house. She said, "you'll meet Alex." That was my first inkling we had company. This is Alex's home, too, and we allow him the comforts of the home. The most unusual thing he's done is, [when] we went to church one Sunday morning, we left some guests to check themselves out. All the doors were locked from the outside and keys dropped in the outside drop box. We came home and the guests were gone. We went to retrieve the keys and they weren't in the drop box. There was no way the guests could have exited without locking the door behind them. I called them and they said they had dropped the keys in the lock box. I told James they would find the keys in their pocket later and mail them back. So anyway the next morning I came downstairs and, laying on the marble table, were the keys. So I guess Alex needed those keys overnight to let us know he is here and has the keys when he wants. Some people have said they were concerned about leaving their cars out back and said they saw a security man out back. I tell them it's Alex out there. Mia mainly fools with the cats. She's never been known to leave our quarters.

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