The Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center has named L’Auberge Provencale of Clarke County the LFSBDC Middletown Small Business of the Year.

As part of National Small Business Week this week, the LFSBDC has been highlighting the impact of entrepreneurs, small business owners and others from the Shenandoah Valley through social media exposure and the presentation of its Small Business of the Year award.

The LFSBDC, a Small Business Administration and local economic development grant funded program, works to help inspire people to start and grow small businesses, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation and increase the Shenandoah Valley’s global competitiveness. Each year this grant funded program provides free consultations to over 450 entrepreneurs and businesses in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren, Warrenton and the City of Winchester.

Services can include how to get a business loan, social media best practices, finance and accounting evaluations, human resources evaluations, lean operations and much more.

Christine Kriz, the LFSBDC director, noted that more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.

“Small businesses are not only the engines of our economic progress — they are the heart and soul of our communities. During National Small Business Week, we celebrate our Nation’s small businesses — the pillars of their neighborhoods,” Kriz said in a news release.

L’Auberge Provencale fits that mold, Kriz said.

Forty years ago, Alain and Celeste Borel used ingenuity and hard work to convert a “broken down Virginia farmhouse” into a first-class French country inn, the news release explained. That ingenuity, along with support from the Lord Fairfax SBDC, helped the Clarke County innkeepers survive a pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit, our inn shut down like everybody else,” Celeste said. “The SBDC had grant money to help small businesses with marketing and advertising. Christine contacted me to see if she could help. We accepted her offer and worked with the SBDC on several marketing projects. We used flyers to get the word out. Yes, we’re open, and we’re COVID safe.”

Pandemic challenges, Celeste noted, were reminiscent of the obstacles the couple faced 40 years ago, when they purchased what was then known as Mt. Airy.

“There were ‘groundhog condominiums’ all over the place when we bought it,” she said, referring to the vast underground networks the vermin had created over the years. “Basically, the whole property was in need of loving care.”

Undeterred by the many renovation challenges, the couple transformed Mt. Airy into an intimate, 11-room inn with dining space, featuring three- and five-course meals. The result was, as one reviewer described it, “a true French countryside experience right here in America.”

The many challenges and final success of Mt. Airy helped remind Alain and Celeste that all was not lost. Yet, closing the inn because of the pandemic was still difficult for them. Fortunately, that shutdown was short-lived.

“We closed in March, but by June we were doing very well,” Celeste said. “Advertising a COVID-safe experience in the country brought guests back. We’re very appreciative of the SBDC’s help.”

In addition to marketing assistance, the SBDC offered tutorials on applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other government assistance.

Celeste continues to value her SBDC connections, the release said.

“The SBDC knows people, and if you need a project done, they will connect you,” she said. “I think that’s very valuable.”

That value was apparent in the inn’s year-end financial report.

“By the end of the COVID year in 2020, we recovered more than we made the previous year,” Celeste concluded. “The SBDC definitely helped make that happen.”