Published: June 28, 2022 | Updated: June 27, 2022

Retirement dream leads to more family time and a successful business

Cheyanne Johnson, Corina Johnson, Bradley Johnson, Eric Johnson, Bjorn Johnson, Abigail Johnson, Jerri and Frank Duarte.

Cheyanne Johnson, Corina Johnson, Bradley Johnson, Eric Johnson, Bjorn Johnson, Abigail Johnson, Jerri and Frank Duarte.

Frank and Jerri Duarte had never stayed in a bed and breakfast before. Jerri coaxed Frank into it in on a trip to Bonners Ferry in search of property to build their retirement home. They had always dreamed of retiring in North Idaho, even hoping their kids and grandkids would join them here. But an all-day property search brought them back to the Northside School Bed and Breakfast, where they were staying, and an earlier conversation. The 1912 restored school turned summer bed-and-breakfast had become too much for the current owners and they, too, had hoped to retire.

Back to school for the whole family

The Duarte’s dreams of retirement took on a whole new dimension as they entertained the idea of purchasing the bed and breakfast as a family business so their children could make the move to North Idaho with them. The kids were all in and within one year the three-generation family had moved into the old school house transformed into a year-round bed and breakfast.

Grandpa Frank is the self-proclaimed nanny to Bjorn and Bradley, ages 3 and 2. Affectionately referred to as CEO and CFO, they keep the whole gang running. Son-in-Law, Eric Johnson, is general manager, with daughter, Corina Johnson as head of marketing and operations. Jerri handles the bookkeeping with granddaughters Cheyanne and Abigail making up the entire housekeeping and serving staff.

Economics 101

It sounds a bit crazy for someone who has neither owned a business nor stayed at a B&B before to purchase one. The previous owners ran the B&B more as a hobby than a business. That made it difficult for the Duarte’s to obtain a loan on the property. The Duarte’s knew there would be much to learn in that first year, and were not afraid to ask for help. During the purchase, their banker had referred them to North Idaho College’s Small Business Development Center for business coaching. who coaches business owners to succeed. Their coach, Dennis Weed, helped them prepare their business plan and make projections to get qualified for their loan. He also helped navigate taxes, licensing, and with “all the other vast paperwork involved in business operations,” says Jerri. “He even came over and helped me set up my QuickBooks accounts.”

Although the first year was challenging, the Duarte’s saw great success. Their practice of treating every guest like family earned them a reputation as a place to gather — that along with the only heated pool in the area. One of their first guests came from Louisiana to experience the place he had seen only in pictures. To this day, he returns every year to his ‘North Idaho Family.'

The Duarte’s have since renovated each of the guest rooms into classroom subjects such as astronomy and paleontology, adding to its charm. Some rooms include chalkboards or original artifacts from the school era days, you can even spend time in the Principal’s office. Many guests that have come to visit are related to former students and teachers, all with at story to tell.

Class of 2020

Nearly to the day of their first anniversary in business, the pandemic struck. Prior to COVID, more than 50% of their guests were Canadian and the border closure brought a lot of uncertainty about how they would survive. As they met with their coach regularly, he was instrumental in assisting them with sound financial advice to weather the storm, kept them appraised of SBA emergency funding options, and news pertaining to the travel industry. “He continues to be our biggest supporter and we still meet with him monthly,” Jerri said.

They’ve also had great support from the local community and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Word continues to spread about the area’s waterfall strolls and scenic drives all within minutes of historical downtown Bonners Ferry. Northside School B&B has become well known for its hospitality. It’s no wonder that they welcome guests from around the world that regularly return to what feels like home to them.

To learn more about how to grow as a business leader or to schedule a no-cost meeting with a business coach, visit or contact 208-665-5085. Click links to register for the free Business Acceleration Series or Special Topic Wednesday Webinars.

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Katrina Boyer is the training coordinator at the North Idaho College Small Business Development Center.


Courtesy photo

Jerri Duarte and Bjorn.


Courtesy photo

The Northside School Bed and Breakfast.


Courtesy photo

Cheyanne Johnson and Bjorn.