Established in 1821, Monroe County has long been a vital part of New York state’s industrial history. Situated on the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Western New York, Monroe became a hub for the milling and shipping industries at first due to its access to Genesee River, which meanders through its center, and later as one of the stops along the Erie Canal.
The county is now home to 740,00 residents, and the state’s third largest city, Rochester. From its roots in agriculture and shipping, Rochester evolved into a hotspot of manufacturing and innovation. It was home to the headquarters of Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, and several major manufacturing facilities. The city remains an important part of New York’s research community, home to the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Well before joining Airbnb, Laura Drake and Mike Weisenreder of Rochester started sharing their home by offering rooms to fellow counselors working at a local summer camp. They decided to try Airbnb after using the website as guests in Europe, and started by sharing their son’s bedroom once he left for college. When they purchased a historic home in Rochester’s Mt. Hope/ Highland District, they decided to dedicate supplemental income earned through home sharing to pay for renovations..
The district is known for the Mt. Hope Nursery, co-founded by horticulture scientist and developer George Ellwanger in 1840. Now, Laura and Mike share the home once owned by Ellwanger’s son with travelers from around the world, giving guests a place to stay that is not only convenient, but also part of the fabric and history of the city itself. The family also lives just moments from the Mt. Hope cemetery where Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony’s are buried.
There are a unique set of challenges when owning a historically-protected home that is over 150 years old. Repairs and replacements must adhere to prescribed standards of quality which can often be quite costly. For Laura and Mike, Airbnb has meant the ability to restore an important part of the city they love and still make ends meet.
What’s unique about your space?
Laura: The front of the house was built in 1850 and the rest in 1870. Since its original owner died, it’s been a hospital, a convalescent home, and even housed the University of Rochester track team. It’s had a lot of tenants, but not a lot of love before us, and I think it’s really glad to have us here.
Why did you start hosting with Airbnb?
Mike: The house was quite a trainwreck when we first moved in. The first thing we did was fix up an apartment in the backyard to start sharing, so we could have a steady income while we worked on the rest of the home.
We really tried to bring the house back to its former glory of the 1850’s and enjoy showing it to guests. Sharing with Airbnb helps us justify and afford giving the house the attention it needs, and and we couldn’t have done it so thoughtfully without home sharing.
What surprised you about sharing your home?
Mike: I was really surprised by how few issues have come up. Most people are so gracious and nice. We have such a variety of people visiting, from all nationalities, backgrounds and religions.
Laura: Hosting has given me a lot more pride in my city, and it’s really nice to have people come see it with fresh eyes. I feel like an ambassador for Rochester and love showing people the best parts of it. It’s also made me so in tune with what’s going on locally.
What brings guests to Rochester?
Laura: The university brings a lot of business, whether they’re visiting someone at the school, looking to attend it, a guest lecturer or attending a conference. There’s not a lot of other options for people to stay, and it’s a growing community.
Mike: It’s also really great for guests financially, as well as a chance for them to feel part of the community and not like just a tourist.
What do guests like most about your neighborhood?
Mike: Many people visit us because of proximity to the university, but the house is also very close to Highland Park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and three blocks from Mt Hope where Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas are buried. Our home also has an acre of land, but we’re a short walk from downtown, which has a ton of micro breweries and restaurants. Guests can feel like they’re in the country but are right smack dab in the middle of town at the same time.
What are some experiences Rochester could offer?
Mike: We live in a city with so many micro breweries, I think a micro brewery tour here would be really ideal, or of course a day trip to the Finger Lakes to visit the wineries. Rochester also has one of the largest public markets in the country; a lot of locals don’t even know that. I think there could be a great foodie experience and you can really tell a lot of the culture of a city from a public market.
What have you learned from guests?
Laura: We had a woman stay with us who was doing research on an optical illusion that occurred called the Rochester Mirage. People could see 50 miles across Lake Ontario to the shore of Toronto from right here at the Mt. Hope cemetery. There was a phenomenon with the clouds that created a magnifying effect, and it was witnessed by hundreds of people.
What’s something unique you’ve done for a guest?
Laura: We had a couple stay who were from Australia and Malaysia originally, and they’d never heard of the Finger Lakes before. So, we hopped in the car with them and four of our friends to do a wine tasting there. It was a great impromptu day with them and ended up being a hoot!
We go out to dinner with our guests at times, which they seem to really appreciate. When you travel you want to meet people who are local to the area to really experience it. We also lend guests bikes since we are right on the canal pass, they could bike the whole length of the Erie Canal if they wanted!
Do you keep in touch with any of your past guests?
Laura: One of our first guests was a couple whose son was looking at colleges and considering Rochester and we really hit it off with them. He decided to attend school here and now when they visit him at college we always get together. We always look forward to them bringing an interesting new beer from home for us to try when they stay. We’re planning a trip to visit them in Cincinnati soon!
What would you like others to know about home sharing?
Mike: I feel like we’re making the world a better place, making it smaller by extending graciousness to new people. It really makes you feel better about what’s going on in the world and that everything can be ok.
Laura: It’s really a chance to have mutual respect and optimism for one another and keep the karma really positive. People always invite us to stay with them as well, and it plants seeds for ideas of new places to visit. We love to travel, and now, we feel we’d have someone to stay with wherever we went.