Things had never been better.
The Inn on the Alameda, our small family-owned hotel, had just experienced two record-breaking years. The Christmas bonuses were the largest we’d ever paid, in recognition of our fantastic employees’ role in that success. Our team was loyal, hard-working and, in so many ways, like a family. Some had worked at the Inn for over twenty years and others for more than thirty.
We started 2020 with our eyes set to growth, having recently expanded with a small restaurant and tequila bar with planned renovations ahead. January and February were record-breaking and, even as reports of a fast-spreading virus became more prominent, our projected occupancies remained strong. Our guests are loyal and come year-after-year. We were heading into Spring Break and Easter with every expectation of being able to weather even a potential downturn or economic contraction.
But we never expected this.
By the second week of March our cancellations were soaring as our occupancy rate plummeted. Money stopped coming in. On a national level there was no serious response to the coming pandemic. Our leadership tweeted nonsense while neglecting to build any kind of testing capacity or unified messaging. The death rate started to rise. The infection rate grew exponentially.
By March 22nd we knew that the coming recession would be brutal, especially for those of us in the hospitality industry. In response we made one of the most difficult decisions of our lives. If we were to have any kind of future as a company we would have to close the inn, laying off 37 loyal, hard-working, and wonderful employees. It was devastating.
It’s quiet now. Rooms which so recently echoed with cheer and laughter sit empty. The view from the garden, now surging back with spring greenery and new growth, is of an eerily quiet Paseo de Peralta street.
In the silence we’ve found an opportunity, a chance to look at a 34- year-old property as if it were brand new and not quite ready to open. There is time to make sure all the final details are perfect: to paint, stucco, repair and stain. “Staining the wood” sounds simple enough but that task alone entails sanding each structure down—all of them weathered in their own unique ways by decades of high altitude sun— before matching and applying stain colors and finishes on each of the ten different buildings.
Jesus Ramirez and Juan Pablo Loya, two employees we’ve kept on, are some of the best craftsmen and builders we’ve met in decades of working in this industry and their help is indispensable. And even though the “to-do” list stretches on, watching it get whittled down has brought satisfaction.
It is strange to feel moments of contentment and peace amid the loss.
It is difficult, in springtime, to think of hibernation. But it is our hope that this is such a moment; not a time for extinction but one of mustering strength for the light’s return.
Joe Schepps, a man without a tequila bar
Michael Schepps, a writer and historian in Portland, Oregon
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