By Len Vermillion
The Meadville Tribune
Editor’s note: Keith Bromley and his Titusville bed and breakfast were the cover story of a recent issue of Vetrepreneur magazine. That story is seen here. Bromley serves on Titusville City Council and ran for a Republican nomination for a seat on the Crawford County Board of Commissioners.
After 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and another 12 years as a commercial pilot, Keith Bromley has been around the world several times over. But these days, the Titusville resident is sticking closer to home and making a go of it as an innkeeper. It’s a business he says is perfectly suited to his personality.
“I’m a people person,” he tells his visitors at Bromley’s Hillhurst Bed & Breakfast, a grand mansion on the outskirts of the picturesque town of just more than 5,600 residents that holds a special place in American industrial history. For the uninitiated, Titusville, in the northwestern part of the state, is the site of the country’s first oil discovery.
For Bromley, it’s a life that is far removed from his days in the Air Force. “When I first joined the Air Force, I was a police officer and then had the opportunity to fly, so I took advantage of that,” he recalls. “For the rest of my career I was a refueling specialist and that was just about as neat as it comes. It was a very challenging job, but also very rewarding.”
He traveled around the globe a great deal and was stationed at several bases, taking him from Nebraska to Indiana to Maine to Alaska. But that was just the beginning of his time as a jetsetter.
Following retirement from the Air Force, he continued to fly, piloting for a private aviation group. He also used his GI Bill benefits to get his commercial rating and instrument rating to become a commercial pilot. “I went through all of my training using my GI Bill and when I finished I still had $17,000 left,” he recalls. “The Air Force was good to me, there’s no doubt about it.”
Bromley still flies today in his Cessna, where he often picks up his wife, Beth, from their second home in Pittsburgh on Friday nights. Beth works as a school teacher in the city, and Keith flies her back on Monday mornings. “She’d much rather fly than drive,” Bromley quips.
But Bromley stopped commercial piloting in 2008 when the economic downturn hit, and decided to get into the bed and breakfast business. His choice was made easier by the availability of the Hillhurst mansion, which had been owned and operated by three others in the past.
“This house came available for sale, and at the time, it was a care facility for the elderly,” Bromley says. “The manager hooked us up with the corporate vice president of the company that owned it. They liked our story, liked the fact that we are veterans, liked our vision. Because of its historical value they wanted to make sure it didn’t get torn down or made into apartments or something like that.”
Bromley, who also serves on the Titusville town council, says a bed and breakfast fits in really well with the community. Now four years in, Bromley’s Hillhurst Bed & Breakfast not only hosts visitors from around the country, but also serves as a function and meeting place for the community itself. Bromley caters events and hosts everything from corporate Christmas parties of 200 guests to small baby showers.
“No one comes to Titusville to go skiing,” Bromley jokes. “But what we do get are people wanting to get out of the city and relax. There is beautiful outdoors here with trails and hunting and fishing.”
He says his military service has helped him greatly in operating the bed and breakfast. “You know, I learned a lot about myself in those first 24 hours of basic training. I learned what I can and cannot do,” he says, “and it was surprising that I learned that I can do quite a bit.”
That includes changing careers and opening his own business in his 50s.
“I spent my career traveling and meeting people,” he continues. “That all rolls right into the [bed and breakfast] business, because this business is all about meeting people. In fact, you couldn’t be in a business like this if you didn’t connect well with others.”
Bromley has three children who have all found their way into the Air Force, so he’s aware of the challenges today’s service members face when setting out on their own into the civilian world. He advises those looking to start their own business to “fill a need.”
If you fulfill a need for a community, the other parts will fall into place,” he says. “We’ve done that here and it has worked out. In fact, we haven’t had to do one piece of advertising and it has worked. We have a website, but it has all been by word of mouth.”
And the people still find their way.
Did you know?
Vetrepreneur magazine is the voice of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA), which creates growth opportunities for the nation’s 3 million veteran-owned businesses by promoting a “Buy Veteran” message to the government, corporations and American consumers. Veteran business owners who would like to list their business on Buy Veteran may visit buyveteran.com. To join NaVOBA, visit navoba.com/joinexpress.