“The Ritz we ain’t. We are the oldest B&B — that’d be Bed & Beer — in existence”
The demand for unique travel accommodations has given rise to companies like Home Away and Air B&B. But in the Mississippi Delta travelers need look no further than Shack Up Inn where they are guaranteed an experience like no other. Rated the No. 1 bed and breakfast (B&B) on Trip Adviser with a certificate of excellence, return guests have enthused in thoughtfully written reviews: “Awesome authentic experience!” “Why stay at a cookie cutter hotel when you can have this?!” “Unforgettable!” And, “a Southern gem!”
Seventeen years ago in an old sharecropper shack on Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi – just three miles from the legendary Crossroads that birthed the Blues – Guy Malvezzi was hanging out with some musician friends. The shack was their space to “drink beer, listen to music, play music…that kind of thing,” and quickly attracted the curiosity of tourists. Guy and his partner Bill hauled over a second structure and coined the property Shack Up Inn. Seeing an opportunity for themselves, Guy and Bill began buying up shacks all over the region from Tutwiler, MS where blues artist Sonny Boy Williams is buried, to Birdie, MS where they procured the former dwelling of a deceased moonshiner (replete with a whiskey still now serving as the shower). Guy and Bill converted the buildings into hotel rooms, furnished them with all the necessary amenities, and today travelers from across the globe make Shack Up Inn their vacation destination.
There are more than 25 shacks, a dozen rooms in a converted cotton gin (“bins in a gin”) – which also hosts a stage for live music – and a full service restaurant and bar. Several small houses across the tracks are known as “Shack’s Dale,” an unplanned community for long-term “shackability, shack-time share, shack-ominiums.” Visitors can choose various lodgings “from upscale to no scale,” quips Malvezzi. But he’s quick to point out it’s not for everyone.
“If you think you don’t like us do us all a favor and stay the hell away. We’ve got a niche market. And for those who don’t get it, just don’t bother us and don’t come here and complain.” On the list of unwelcome guests are: children, “it’s not conducive to children, there are a lot of rusty implements around here they could get hurt on;” college students, “they just tore everything up so we put a 25-year-age limit to stay here;” and locals, “we’ve had a lot of problems with locals, we don’t cater to them at all, we try to keep them away.”
So who are Shack Up Inn’s best customers? “The Europeans are so delightful. They’re easy to please. There’s never any problem, and if there is one, it’s not major. They get over it. They’re just nice folks, and they come in with fresh money, which is a big thing, you know.” Like the Norwegian festival goers visiting Clarksdale from the King Biscuit Blues Festival stateside in Helena, AK, and the “Belgium Biker Boys from Brussels” road tripping their way to New Orleans, Shack Up Inn hosts an eclectic variety of returning customers yearly.
Photos by Ed Kashi
The first shack at the Shack Up Inn was built as a place to "hang out, drink beer, listen to music, play music, that kind of thing." 24 shacks later that atmosphere has not changed.
From the employees to their customers, The Shack Up Inn attracts an eclectic community.
The Shack Up Inn has proudly redefined the term B&B, naming itself a "Bed and Beer."
For over 17 years, owners Bill Talbot & Guy Malvezzi have been expanding their Mississippi oasis. With 25 shacks, a dozen rooms in a converted cotton gin ("bins in a gin"), and several small houses in "Shack's Dale," this compound is home to a mix of short-term and long-term visitors.
The Shack Up Inn owners having never made a profit, reinvesting all profits into the business to add more shacks and features.
The Shack Up Inn is currently rated the #1 B&B on Trip Advisor with a Certificate of Excellence.
Staying true to the history of the Mississippi Delta, the Shack Up Inn makes an ideal spot for iconic photographs and historical tourism.
The Shack Up Inn attracts a niche audience. Locals, children and college students under 25 are not allowed to stay on the property. Their ideal customers? Europeans.
Virtually unchanged from when it was a working plantation, the Shack Up Inn has become a top historical and cultural tourism destination in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
With 25 shacks, a dozen rooms in a converted cotton gin ("bins in a gin"), and several small houses in "Shack's Dale", visitors can choose various lodgings from "upscale to no scale" at this compound.
Located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, the Shack Up Inn is the oldest B&B-- that's bed and beer.
Q & A
Bill and Guy sat down with us for a beer after a tour of the grounds.
What do you see as the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is keeping the right people in here. What we’ve learned is the further people come from to come to the Shack Up Inn, the more they appreciate it.
I understand the locals don’t stay there, but what do you see as your role in that local community?
Well, we’re, you know, probably one of the forefront runners here of tourism as far as bringing people to Clarksdale. So I think we’ve helped the community immensely just through tourism dollars.
What’s your dream personally and also your dream for the business?
I just hope wherever it ends up on down the line that it just keeps on keeping on, making people happy. If you go online to Trip Advisor you’ll see so many people say things like “I wish I’d had more than one day to stay there,” or “Best part of the whole U.S. trip.”
Were your folks small business owners, did they give you any advice that sticks with you to this day that you go ‘my dad always said this or my mom said that?’ Any advice?
They always told me I couldn’t be a farmer even though we owned a farm and my daddy was a farmer. They advised me not to go into farming. So when my daddy finally quit farming, we opened up a swimming pool store, to sell chemicals, and maintenance and repair, right here in Clarksdale and ran it for 25 years.
What’s your advice to someone who would want to start their own business?
If you’ve got a good idea you’ve almost go to take the Johnny Cash mentality, which I don’t know if people remember but probably back in the 90s Johnny Cash couldn’t get a record label to talk to him. He was too old; he was too washed up. So he took out a full-page ad in Billboard Magazine giving them the bird, telling them to go screw themselves. So that’s kind of the attitude we took locally with people, naysayers like, “Are y’all crazy? Have you lost your mind?” It took us over a year to get financing from a bank to buy the property out here. So you know if you’ve got a good idea you’ve just to stick to your guns and you’ve got to find a bank that believes in you because very few businesses these days can you get into and be paid out in two or three years.
So you’ve got to believe.
You’ve got to believe but you’ve got to have somebody behind you with some muscle that believes you – or you’ve got to be a good con artist – which we might be a little of both in there.