With free coffee and a smile, Matt Meyers welcomes guests to his Hostel California.
Photo by Victor Lawson
The Chalfant House on Academy Avenue is seeing a bustle of activity lately, reminiscent of times past. Its rooms and kitchen are once again filled with a multitude of strangers, friends and stories.
While this is nothing new for this property, the person who brought them here is.
Between gulps of coffee one recent morning, former Yucaipa resident Matt Meyers smiles from behind a weekâs worth of scruff. âIâm âŠ well, this is proof that dreams really can come true.â Meyers has been visiting and exploring the Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra for more than a decade, coming through often with family and friends to ski, hike, fish and climb throughout the area.
He explains having noticed early on that the options for overnight accommodations were limited. He was often torn between primitive camping for free, but without the ability to comfortably shower, cook or socialize, and checking into a hotel. Hotels can often be expensive, and while they do offer basic luxuries, many still lack a social aspect. It was clear to Meyers that a bunk or dorm-style hostel could provide a patron with those necessary luxuries while also being an ideal place to relax, rejuvenate and share stories, all for a very affordable price. An entrepreneur with experience in real estate, Meyers began looking for an ideal location that could help him find a solution to this problem.
Meyers quickly located an available space on Short Street in Bishop. There are certain amounts of parking spaces required by the city of Bishop per bed offered by this sort of business, and while Meyers was happy with the location and facility, there was simply not enough parking available there. Meyers kept looking, undeterred. âThe Short Street place boosted my confidence that a hostel in Bishop was a very real possibility,â he recalls.
In May of 2014, Meyers realized that possibility, becoming the proud new owner of Hostel California and purchasing the old Chalfant House bed and breakfast on Academy Avenue in which to base his operation.
âThis place is absolutely perfect,â Meyers says, showing his guest around the grounds and from room to room, rapid-firing his laundry list of planned improvements. A new paint job, fencing, outdoor grotto with furniture, bar and a jacuzzi, more bunk beds and remodeled rooms and bungalows are all in the works. âThe skyâs really the limit here,â he says. Meyers wants to blend the new with the old and already has a deep respect for the history of the house. He is quick to point out that the original owner and builder of the house, P.A. Chalfant, started the Inyo Independent newspaper in 1870 which ultimately spawned a series of community newspapers operated by Chalfant Press, Inc., the most notable of these being The Inyo Register.
The house has seen a devastating fire, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power ownership and multiple occupants (and reputations) including Big Burt and some of her working ladies from the brothel on Warren Street. After Big Burt, the Academy Hotel housed visitors until 1981. Ownership then passed through many hands until it became a bed and breakfast run by Fred and Sally Manecke in 1987, and then eventually Meyersâ Hostel California.
Back inside, Meyers explains that he purchased the property fully furnished. âAll the dishes, pots, pans, tables and beds all came with the place, and are free for our guests to use.â There are plenty of amenities to please the most needy visitor, although the hostelâs main clientele thus far arenât exactly needy. At the time of this particular visit, Pacific Crest Trail hikers are in every nook and cranny strumming guitars, reading books, making food or packing packs with most of what they might ever actually need.
And the parking? âWe are currently limited in the amount of beds we can have by the available parking, but as you can see, very few of my guests even have a car,â Meyers says. Sure enough, only one vehicle sits in the parking lot, despite a full house. Meyers moved himself and his dog in on June 3, opened on the 5th and had four guests the night of the 6th. By June 10, he was at max capacity. âWe have room for about 20 people right now, with plans to expand that to 30 or even 40 as we reclaim space and adjust parking,â says Meyers.
Meyers sees Hostel California as filling a need for the adventurer: the climber and hiker and fisherman who loves to play dirty and high in the regionâs scenic mountain ranges. He also sees it as an asset to the community of Bishop.
Meyers estimates that the average PCT hiker spends around $300 per resupply, mostly on food, lodging and equipment such as shoes and camping gear. In his eyes, by offering an affordable, fun and fully stocked overnight option, cash that hikers would normally have spent on a hotel bill can be spent in town with local merchants instead. Heâs also confident that if they enjoy their stay enough they may be inclined to spend multiple nights.
One of his guests confirms as much. âWe were planning to spend only one night off the trail, but after hanging out here in Bishop, we couldnât resist spending another,â says the guest, a PCT through-hiker who calls herself The Bandit (many such hikers choose to adopt trail names for the duration of their hike). She continues, âI fell in love with Bishop and because of the extra day, spent a bit more money here than I usually do on a resupply.â
Meyers is optimistic about his business and his business plan. âJack Daniel put his whiskey in a square bottle because he believed in giving a square deal. I want to do the same and we will always be the home of the $20 dorm.â He offers an even larger discount to PCT hikers, as well as private rooms for more. While offering another cup of coffee, Meyers concludes, ââŠ and the coffee is always free!â
The Hostel California is located in the old Chalfant House at 213 Academy Ave., across from the Bishop Library. Call (760) 399-6316 for more information. A website is currently in the works.