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With retro charm and chic geek decor, North Bend's Itty Bitty is the Inn place to be

For many travelers, a hotel is little more than a place to rest between adventures. But for a growing group of fans, a North Bend hub of hospitality is the adventure…whether it’s a groovin’ 70s flashback or to boldly go where no one has gone before. In our Labor Day holiday weekend feature, KLCC pays a visit the Itty Bitty Inn.

The first thing that catches your eye are the inn’s zany murals: in one corner, an Imperial stormtrooper is “Stayin’ Alive” in John Travolta’s disco attire. A Star Trek landing party wanders nearby, with tropical flair.

“Captain Kirk, and Mr. Spock, and Doctor McCoy…and a random red shirt who’s looking right at you, holding a tiki drink,” grins Rik Villarreal, manager of the Itty Bitty Inn, built in 1950. He took ownership of it in 2014, transforming it into the geek boutique villa it is today with the help of many artists and craftsmen.

Brian Bull
Random and quirky characters greet visitors at every corner of the Itty Bitty Inn. (From L to R:) An Imperial Discotrooper; R2-D2 and C3-PO; a Gorn commander and enforcer of parking rules.

Circling back to the main office, he shows how its window is incorporated into a mural of a VW bus.

“When I hear people outside taking pictures, I’ll open the window up and I’m like, ‘Hey man, does anybody know how far it is to Eugene? You know when OCF starts?’ And people crack up.”

Five themed rooms make up the Itty Bitty Inn: there’s an Oregon Trail room with rustic, frontier-style décor and books on how to survive dysentery; that 70s room explodes with daisy yellow, burnt orange, and chocolate hues, with notable period fixtures like a disco ball and Atari video game console; two Tiki rooms entice tourists with tropical accents, including bamboo elements and retro Polynesian-style idols popularized in the 1950s and 60s; and the most out of this world room of all…

“This is room number 1701, which is the hull number of the USS Enterprise,” says Villarreal, opening the door. “Walk in to a whole new world.”

Brian Bull
A mural of the late actress Nichelle Nichols, who played the role of Lt. Uhura on the original "Star Trek" became a shrine shortly after she died on July 30, 2022.

The Star Trek room has décor and hidden features sure to please the most fervent Trekkie, including a Captain’s Log for guests to sign, and –inside a drawer - the rapidly-multiplying furballs that overran the classic Enterprise.

“Oh no, tribbles! Everywhere!” cries Villarreal, lifting a handful of the fuzzy creatures. Nearby, notable red shirt Ensign Rizzo bears towels for guests, and a ship’s computer chirps and pulsates, a faithful recreation for the original series.

While the Star Trek franchise has seen its share of reboots, the Itty Bitty itself had a hard reset after a homicide took place in 2012, when its previous owners still ran it. Villareal purchased the inn for $300,000, aware of that history.

“I figured the only way to go is up. And we did that,” he says. “And beginning with the remodel, and rebranding, and just a whole new feel and vibe, the universe provided.”

Another challenge of course, has been the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Hotel and Lodging Association says nationally, occupancy rates and revenues are expected to finally reach 2019 levels this year. Villareal says one big help for his establishment was $51,000 in federal COVID relief funds.

“It held us over until we started getting some guests staying with us again.”

Accolades have also helped. Travel Advisor named the Itty Bitty among the “Best of the Best” in 2020, while in 2019, Yelp put it on top of its best budget hotels.

Then there’s Itty Bitty devotees, like Julianne Pepetone of Janesville, California. The jazz, rock, and blues singer and her husband have been coming here for 10 years and are already booked for their next visit.

“It’s a magical place for us. We’re going to stay in the 70s room, and I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, so that will be fun for me. But they’re all wonderful,” says Pepetone.

Retro kitsch and geeky murals are draws, but it’s obvious that guests also love Villarreal, whom they all call “Rik”. That includes Andy Vaughn of Auburn, Washington. She arrived late and alone last Thanksgiving, and Rik said there was no vacancy. But a moment later…

“He (Rik) said, ‘Well, look, I have one room. But you gotta help me put it back together because I was painting in there today. So if you’re willing to do that, then you can have that room,’” recalls Vaughn. “By the time we were done, I knew his entire life story. I definitely felt like I had family and home.”

Photo provided by Tracy Gorley.
Tracy Gorley pays tribute to the Itty Bitty with a custom tat that Villareal helped design. The pipe and leafy accents refer to her D & D barbarian character, Tragor.

Tracy Gorley of Portland, Oregon is such a fan of the Itty Bitty Inn, she got its logo tattooed on her arm. A Dungeons & Dragons fan, Gorley and her role-playing character both jibe with its nerdy vibe.

“Her name is Tragor. And Rik actually calls me ‘Tragor.’ She’s a barbarian, she would totally stay at the Itty Bitty Inn because she does like a good drink. Well, you can drink there.

“My husband actually wrote in Rik’s Inn into one of his campaigns, because he homebrews.”

Jennifer Sievers makes sure to stay at the Itty Bitty whenever she rides her motorcycle from Phoenix, Arizona up Highway 101 to see relatives in Olympia.

“I ride a pink, sparkly Harley called ‘Miss Piggy’, so when I got there, oh my gosh… you could pull right in front of your room. For a motorcycle rider, that is so key. Very retro, very personal. ”

Several guests also told KLCC that they appreciate the inn's stock of locally-made or sourced coffees, beer, soaps, and other crafted items.

Back at the Itty Bitty Inn, Villarreal prepares to greet a Eugene couple booked for the Star Trek room. He says people of all generations love staying here.

“Whether they’re boomers, Xers, millennials, or Zoomers…there’s just one common vibe, everybody’s really mellow here.”

This even includes one guest who’s from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

We’d love to spill who that was, but that would violate the prime directive.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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