Shacking Up In The Mississippi Delta
CLARKSDALE, Miss.--The Shack Up Inn says it all – if this ain’t your kind of place, don’t bother stopping because there are plenty of others who see the charm in spending the night in a shotgun shack.
More people than you’d think.
At a time when most hotels are struggling to find ways to attract new guests, the Shack Up Inn, which rents out renovated share cropper shacks on a former cotton plantation, has seen its business grow amid the recession.
“We’ll turn down 50 to 70 people every weekend,” said Guy Malvezzi, one of the owners.
“We’re a cheap thrill,” Malvezzi said, adding that as he saw the unemployment rate rise, he thought reservations might drop off, but “I just sat and watched our business start climbing.” Most recent guests seem to come from within a 400-mile radius, indicating that more people may be choosing to stick closer to home for more affordable vacations.
Michael and I discovered the place--it calls itself a "B&B," but that's bed and beer, not breakfast, thank you) as we drove through the heart of the Mississippi Delta, but the inn doesn't make itself easy to find. Business is so good that that the Shack Up Inn might be one of the only places nowadays that spends less energy trying to lure new guests than discouraging a certain type from stopping there. The owners chase away tour buses, refuse to rent rooms to adults younger than 25 (“drunken frat boys stay away,” as the inn's web site puts it) and warn potential guests, “The Ritz, we ain’t.”
“We don’t have the place listed in the phone book," Malvezzi said. "We don’t have a sign or billboard anywhere. You talk with any tourism person and they’ll tell you how we’re [messing] up. But we do it for a reason. We’re not desperate for anybody’s money.”
Instead, they cater to guests who can appreciate stains on a table and hand-scrawled graffiti on a door. The barely-rehabbed shacks, named after the people who once lived in them or the places where they were originally located, are weathered wood outside and modern appliances inside. They have air conditioning units, electric coffee makers and television sets. But the comforts stop well short of luxury, with much of the furniture looking like it's seen better days. To complete the rustic look, tree branches hold up curtains, bathroom walls are made of corrugated tin and room decorations depend on roadside finds and estate sale buys.
“Blue Mike” Spence showed me the floor of the staircase he constructed inside the inn. The wood changes at each level, transitioning from oak to distressed maple to two kinds of bamboo. All came from scraps; their irregularity fits right in. The inn is a place where every object and nook seems to have a story: A nightstand made from a coffee-bean holder, a strand of ivy turned into art, a ceiling constructed from distressed tin (purchased from a man who considered it trash).
“Nowadays when something’s broken, you just throw it away,” Spence said. “There are some things I refuse to throw away.”
Spence moved here from Ft. Lauderdale, taking on the task of “making the old stuff look new and the new stuff look old”--a job he came to crave after his first visit, as a guest in the Robert Clay shack. Spence wrote in the guest book then that he felt he was “stepping back in time.”
"You can feel the blues," he said. He has scraped the dirt and grime from the walls of these shacks, where black sharecroppers lived and raised families. “The difference is that you want to come and stay in it. But they had to live in them."
The shacks are less an exploitation of the region's history than an attempt to preserve what would have inevitably been torn down with time, Malvezzi said. One by one, he and the other owners have had the shacks moved from the surrounding area to the Hopson Plantation, which is famous for developing the first mechanized cotton picker. The Inn opened in 1998 and, now, for a starting price of $60 a night, you can rent one of 19 shacks, an old tractor shed converted into a three-bedroom house or one of the 10 rooms carved into the top level of a cotton gin.
Malvezzi said there are also plans to build “shackominiums," or shacks for sale, in the 18-acre lot across the way from the Inn, creating an eventual “Shackville.”
“I knew when we got into this, it would be a good business,” Malvezzi said. “But I didn’t think it’d create such a demand.”
He couldn’t have guessed he would be turning away people or putting up signs like “Juke Joint Chapel” that either draw you in or scare you off.
On its website, the inn does what it can to “keep people away”--the wrong people, anyway. The inn's desired clientele would be the history and music buffs who drive through the Delta in search of the spirits of Sam Cooke, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and the other great blues pioneers.
“Discounts – try Motel 6 or 8,” the Inn's site warns. “Roof leaks – only if it rains. Room service – call the Peabody in Memphis. Wake up call – yea right, automatic one minute after check-out time, it consist of a foot on your door at 11:01 AM.”
Posted by: Tracey24 | July 6, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bonkers1 | July 6, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ancientdude | July 6, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dorseyc | July 6, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: reachopcc | July 6, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: marymoore1 | July 6, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: MississippiMade | July 6, 2009 11:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: derutadiva | July 7, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: HereComesTheJudge | July 7, 2009 10:33 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.