Racy ads, rumors spark a B&B controversy in Parkville

Janet Byers has heard the rumors spreading around town and wants to set the record straight.

No, the bed-and-breakfast that the Lee’s Summit mom and businesswoman recently took over near Parkville’s historic downtown is not a brothel.

Yes, she put mirrors on the ceiling above one bed. Each of the four Victorian-style bedrooms has a camcorder for personal videos and, yes, every bedroom has a “secret closet” with an intimate device, including one with a sex swing.

But, no, the B&B is not for cheating “swingers.”

“It’s a place to put romance back into relationships,” said Byers, 47, understated and with an easy manner. “It’s to keep marriages alive. I’m divorced now, but I’ve been married. Marriages can be a little boring after a while. You lose that spontaneity. Sometimes you just need to get away and do something totally different.”

Byers’ sincere sentiment that her Romantic Getaway Today Inn is all about “couples having good, clean fun” has hardly kept the inn from the being the talk of the river town, with eyebrows rising and tongues wagging, ever since Byers took over the inn in January.

Before her lease-to-own arrangement, the brightly painted Victorian at 702 East Street— overlooking Missouri 9 and the ball fields of Park University — had been run as the Porch Swing Inn for 10 years by owners Ellen Underkoffler and Rhonda Weimer, both of whom are openly gay.

The flap over the B&B’s new direction, Weimer said, took her by surprise and seemed “atypical of Parkville” as she doesn’t view the community as overly prudish. Nor does she think what Byers’ B&B is all about is much different than what hers or any B&B is about, although others are likely more subtle.

“Frankly, they’re coming to have sex,” Weimer said. “If there is a B&B on the planet where people are not having sex, I don’t know where it is.”

The matter may come down to racy and premature marketing that had some wondering whether B&B stood for bawdy bondage.

Before opening, Byers launched a website promoting not only the “secret closet” and “romantic extras” in each room but also a video library with titles ranging from “The Aviator” and “I, Robot” to instructional videos such as “Erotic Yoga for Couples” and “The Ultimate Sex Guide for Lovers.”

Plus, Byers originally intended to sell liquor (not allowed in the residentially zoned area) as well as stock a gift shop with sexual clothing and devices.

“Some people are still up in arms about it,” said Tiffany Miller, membership chairwoman of the Main Street Parkville Association, a merchants’ group. “I think the typical sentiment you hear is, ‘This is not the kind of element we want here in Parkville.’ ”

In fact, it’s not a sentiment Miller shares.

Although she is the manager of Parkville’s other B&B, the Main Street Inn Bed & Breakfast, Miller said she personally likes Byers.

“She’s lovely,” she said. She supports Byers’ business and, in the long run, believes having a romantic B&B will be good for Parkville.

“It is bringing attention to Parkville. I keep trying to tell everyone is town it is going to be great,” Miller said. “The market will decide. People will decide if they want to buy those things or do those things. She is making it available to them to have a little extra fun as a couple.”

Some things, though, Byers won’t be able to sell.

Sean Ackerson, Parkville assistant city administrator, said the city already had a moratorium on the sale of sex aids and novelties unless they account for 1 percent or less of total sales revenue. Byers’ inventory would have accounted for more than that. Now she sells items such as silk robes and bathing suits.

The possibility of issuing a liquor license also drew residents’ complaints.

“She withdrew it (her application) before they ever took action on it,” Ackerson said.

Parkville’s new mayor, Jim Brooks, said he spoke to Byers about the explicit nature of her website when he was still an alderman and soon after Byers took over the inn.

“I talked to her about toning down the website a little bit,” Brooks said. “None of that stuff is illegal. And, in and of itself, it is not terribly offensive to many people. But some people do find it offensive. We did prefer that it didn’t have a 25-page catalog advertising all the adult toys that would be in the adult store”

Plus, he said, he hoped Byers, who he said he believes will be a good corporate neighbor, would be mindful of Parkville’s small town and family image.

“What happens in Parkville stays in Parkville, I guess,” he said. “But I would rather that not be our moniker up here.”

For her part, Byers has softened the tone of her website, as well as its language. For legal reasons, she said, she substituted words such as “romantic” and “couples” for “sex” and “adult.”

Since her official opening last month, Byers said she has had about 18 couples stay in the inn’s $100- to $125-per-night suites where Victorian and Queen Ann décor overshadow anything of overt sexuality. There was, however, the sturdy aluminium frame arching over the bed in the Tropical Gardenville room.

On a tour, Byers took out the swing, made of black straps, and hooked it to the frame.

“I think someone did use this,” she said as she snapped it into place. “I see a little rose petal on it.”