Downtown Winston is now home to 14 Airbnbs.
Two main groupings comprise the bulk of the locations — one surrounding the Innovation Quarter in the Eastern part of downtown and the other in the West portion of downtown along Poplar Street. From single bedrooms at $57 a night to entire houses for $150 and up, an Airbnb can be found in downtown Winston-Salem to suit a variety of needs.
Airbnb is a platform that allows individuals to list their private bedrooms, apartments or houses online and rent them out to customers by the night. It allows the conversion of any privately owned living space into a hotel. Prices for Airbnb sites tend to be cheaper than hotels, which can make them more desirable to potential customers. While the added competition in the room and board market may be a plus for the discount traveler, it could have negative implications for the established communities within cities, according to George Bryan, a member of the City-County Planning Board. Bryan cites other cities like San Francisco as reason for his cautiousness when it comes to the influx of Airbnb sites in Winston-Salem.
“It certainly has turned neighborhoods on their heads,” Bryan said.
Bryan, a lifetime Winston-Salem resident, has spent much of his professional career invested in cultivating a richer community in Winston-Salem, be it creating an advocacy group to help abused children or founding the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance, an organization designed to unite and protect what Bryan thinks is one of the most important aspects of the city — community.
“In neighborhoods, people know each other and there‘s a sense of [community],” Bryan said. “With Airbnb, you don’t have that anymore.”
As the city has aged, the downtown area has grown and become a bustling city center with restaurants, eclectic shops and now 14 Airbnbs. Though Bryan has seen the modern take on a bed and breakfast be quite destructive when it comes to community relationships in the West End neighborhood of Winston-Salem, he admits that the outcome may not be the same in downtown.
“It may be a good thing that‘s happening if we‘re trying to accommodate more people who are visitors,” Bryan said.
Haydee Thompson, owner of four Airbnbs in downtown Winston-Salem said that if utilized properly, Airbnb has the ability to contribute to a city‘s sense of community rather than detract from it.
“I think there needs to be a sense of responsibility when you’re using Airbnb,” Thompson said. “From my perspective you have to have a hand on the community that you’re injecting yourself into.”
As a resident of Winston-Salem for over 15 years, Thompson feels that she has a deep understanding of the city and it’s culture. This has allowed her to cultivate a group of Airbnbs in a manner that is beneficial to downtown and its residents. Thompson‘s Airbnbs create the Wherehouse Art Hotel, a conglomerate of four unique spaces located above Krankie’s coffee. With a focus on showcasing art and artists in her hotel, Thompson’s goals trend towards providing a memorable experience for visitors to Winston.
“I really felt passionate about holding space for artists,” Thompson said. “Airbnb certainly plays its part [in doing that].“
Drawing people downtown and creating commerce is a priority for many within city government, according to Bryan, and Airbnb provides a pathway to accomplish just that. The city planning board has yet to address the issues that surround Airbnbs in Winston-Salem, but Bryan suspects that they will be discussed in the next year or so.
Although there is no municipal regulation that deals directly with Airbnbs in Winston-Salem, private companies can regulate how their properties are utilized. HRI Properties, the managing body for the apartments in the Nissen building downtown, utilizes the Apartment Association of North Carolina Residential Lease Agreement which states that, “you may not assign the agreement or sublet or otherwise rent the home to any other party in any manner or to any extent (even if for only one day or for a portion of a day)…” This precludes tenants in the Nissen building from repurposing their apartments as Airbnbs.
The number of Airbnbs in downtown Winston Salem has grown and for people like Bryan, the main concern moving forward is creating a positive blend of a healthy community and the temporary travelers who visit.
“The interesting question is what is the right balance for Winston-Salem” Bryan said.