We have owned Hampton Terrace for fifteen years, and not a year goes by when we don't inplement a major project, or orchestrate a series of property upgrades. This Spring is no exception.
Now that we have returned, I can share that Susan and I spent a couple of weeks away from the inn - celebrating our 35th anniversary at a beach, and visiting our kids and grandkids in Texas. While we were gone, we had most of the main house floors completely refinished. This is the kind of project that is best done behind one's back, although we had a really busy several days putting things back in order upon our return. We chose to have the original, natural oak tone highlighted, and we are very pleased with the result.
Also taking advantage of our absence was Bob, our loyal painter. We have been wanting to repaint our dining room for a while, and now it is done. Further, I left him several cans of white semi-gloss and instructed him to freshen every trim and door he desired. As a result, he pretty much hit everything: the front door and all floor, ceiling and door trims, plus inside windows and closets. I love people who self-motivate, and he even repainted our creamy yellow front hall and second-floor landing. Then as he always does, he walked me around the property upon our return and showed off everything he did....like a proud Papa. And left me a bill that always seems too low. Bob is like a member of our family.
Other improvements: new carpets in Carriage House rooms 1 and 2 and in several of our suites. And a new furnace and hot water heater.
For those who have not been here in the past year....ALL new HD TVs, and a vastly upgraded WiFi system. Both sorely needed and DONE.
We've also been asked to consider extra shelf space in some of our bathrooms and Susan and plan to spend the month of April working on that.
Everyone who stays at Hampton Terrace is asked, in a follow-up e-mail, to suggest improvements. We take that feedback VERY seriously, and plan to address as many upgrades as possible over the next several months.
Gonna connect the dots here. Susan and I LOVE Wicked Tuna - which is a National Geographic Channel reality show featuring the adventures of some very salty tuna fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Not guys who drag nets, but guys who catch 800 pound fish with a line and a spear. Every Sunday night at 9 pm.
Guys who go out every day, 7 days per week during tuna season, to earn enough money to carry them to next year. And each trip out of the harbor is an investment in time, payroll, fuel and equipment. They are in the hole unless they score a few giant fish at least. Fish that bring between $3,000 and $15,000 each, depending on size and quality. Just getting a fish on the line does not mean a payday. It seems AT LEAST half the fish they hook either pop the line, drop the hook, or end up being sharks. I know the show amplifies the personality conflicts between boat captains, but it makes for compelling television.
These guys are real. They have families. They swear. They drink beer. None of them has ever met an "R" in the middle of a word. They love what they do, although any unbiased observer might conclude the risk and reward are askew.
Now what does this have to do with Hampton Terrace - and more fundamentally - why Susan and I LOVE living in Massachusetts?
Because here in the Berkshires, our lives are populated with guys like this.
I cannot tell you how many times people ask if running an inn is like the old "Newhart Show" where "Dick Loudon" moves to Vermont to run an inn. The ever-expanding cast of odd characters was fodder for potentially decades of funny episodes. (Larry, Darryl and Darryl)
Susan and I have recently come to the realization that our lives are exactly like this. We have Bob the painter, Chris the landscaping guy, Wade the plumber, another Bob the heating guy, "Cajun Don" who does small carpentry jobs, another Chris who does larger jobs, chain-smoking Scott and his brother who do major construction for us, Antonia and Jose - our housekeepers since 2006, aided by their children, siblings and cousins as needed... Curt who delivers milk. And when I go to the local Ace hardware store: Rudy, Brian, Jenn, Collette, Kevin. At the corner gas station: Big Glenn and Little Glenn. At the local grocery: Earl, Leslie and Michael. And on and on.
Why do we appreciate these "salt of the earth" people so much? We have a mutual dependency for sure, but just like I know every one of the Wicked Tuna captains and crew would sacrifice everything for a fellow fisherman in need, I feel the same about the cast of characters who support Hampton Terrace. If the heat goes out in the middle of the night....we have it covered. Pool pump shorted? Solved.
I grew up in a place where it mattered whether you were white or black (in every possible scenario). You either grew up on the right side of Vineville Avenue or the wrong side. Where did you go to school? ...which church? ...which high school sorority or fraternity? ..old money or new money? ...which country club? ...which civic club?
And it is not like I was on the wrong side of the tracks there. My family has been in Macon since the 1840s, and we DID belong to the country club, etc. I just hated watching how people acted to those who did not meet their criteria for inclusion.
No such issues here. Although I know Lenox MUST have a well-hidden clique of some who might worry about such things, I have never been impacted by them. In 17 years...can't name one.
The wealthiest person in the Berkshires - Jane Fitzpatrick - drove a Ford Escort station wagon and literally never met a stranger.
So when I see Dave, Paul, Tyler, chain-smoking Dave, and the others on Wicked Tuna, I also see Bob, Wade, Chris, Antonia and Jose at Hampton Terrace. Hard-working, family-oriented locals who are loyal to us, and completely without pretense. And we try to be loyal to them.
What will be their mood today? How did the Sox, Patriots, Bruins or Celtics do last night?
We never want to take for granted that one of America's great mansions is located across the street from Hampton Terrace.
Ventfort Hall is MUCH more than a restored historic home. A very aggressive schedule of tours, performances, special events, teas, parties, lectures, etc. keeps visitors flowing twelve months a year. It is the ONLY "Berkshire Cottage" that attempts to stay open through the winter.
Buit as a summer home in 1893 by Sarah Morgan (sister of J.P.) and her husband, George (cousin and business partner with J.P), Ventfort Hall has 28 rooms, which includes 15 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and 17 fireplaces. Sarah and J.P. each inherited large estates from their father, and Sarah spent most of hers on this home. As was the case with many of the great Berkshire estates, Ventfort Hall went through a half-century of alternate uses, including abandonment, until a local not-for-profit was created in 1994 to save the property. Over the subsequent years, millions have been raised and invested, primarily through the efforts of benefactor Tjasa Sprague, who can still be seen daily, overseeing projects in the mansion.
One of the interesting angles to note, is that Ventfort Hall is a work in progress. The deterioration was so severe in some areas, that quite a large investment had to be made in "things you do not see," such as the roof, exterior brickwork and foundations, code issues needed to allow occupancy, heating, remediation, etc. And utimately work has been finished on many of the grand interior spaces, such as the Grand Hall, staircase, dining room, parlors, studies and second floor bedrooms.
I am proud (Stan Rosen) to have been added to the Board in the early 2000s, and I was asked to Chair the first event held in Ventfort Hall in half a century. We had to wait until the Building Inspector approved an occupancy of 100, and we planned a party to reintroduce Ventfort Hall to the Lenox community.
We pretended we were George and Sarah Morgan, inviting our friends to see our new summer cottage in 1893. The entire evening was an authentic throwback, including the music played by the string quintet in the minstrel gallery, the food served both at the cocktail reception and at the seated dinner, the wines offered, the after-dinner entertainment and cigars... A wonderful evening, only surpassed by the "White Star Line Party" a year later. Another story, for sure.
Pardon the ramble down memory lane. Back to the present: Ventfort Hall is a MUST-SEE for those visiting the Berkshires and even worth a trip to the area - coupled with several nights at Hampton Terrace. As a matter of fact, mention you are visiting Hampon Terrace because of Ventfort Hall, and I am likely to offer you a discount.
Located about one block from Hampton Terrace, Shakespeare & Company presents its 2014 Summer Season - celebrating the 450th birthday of The Bard.
Tickets are now on sale through their website, and special packages are also available for those who make it a goal to see as many of the summer's offerings as possible. We have plenty of guests who try to do that, but no one is more committed than Judy Newman, who has stayed here 56 nights since 2007. Originally referred by the Shakespeare & Company box office, Judy waits until the S&Co. schedule is announced, and then locks in at least three visits per summer. Judy has been here so many times, we don't even check her in. She goes right to her room and we see her at breakfast.
Although Judy tends to come on weekends, most of our Shakepeare and Company guests like to come midweek, when they can save up to $70/night at Hampton Terrace, compared to the weekend rates. We also do not have a midweek minimum, which helps those who cannot stay three nights on the weekends. This is also true for our guests who are interested in Jacob's Pillow, Williamstown Theater Festival, Berkshire Theater Festival and Barrington Stage Company.
But don't think you are limited to Shakespeare at S&Co. This talented group of actors can do anything - and they also tackle mysteries, romances, comedies - virtually no limit to their range. And they have been known to relocate Shakespeare's most iconic works to a different time and space. After all, where did West Side Story come from?
And here at Hampton Terrace, we are very proud to have hosted many of Shakespeare & Company's most beloved actors: John Douglas Thompson, Malcolm Ingram, Johnny Lee Davenport, Olympia Dukakis, and more.
Additionally, Hampton Terrace has twice hosted actors and the production team for "Broadway in the Berkshires," a bi-annual fundraiser for the Shakespeare and Company educational activities. And we have also twice hosted the after-party, which in 2013 featured an impromptu sing-a-long with Academy Award-winning composer, Alan Menken.
Founded by Tina Packer more than 30 years ago, Shakespeare & Company has reached iconic status in Lenox, home of the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. How proud we are to have such an important attraction literally walking distance from our inn.
Shakespeare & Company programs all year round, but concentrates its most expansive productions during the June through October "season." During this period, at least four different productions are rotating simultaneously. And then the entire calendar changes over several more times.
From November through Spring, the company presents other interesting shows - usually not Shakespeare. They are committed to helping the Berkshires build and sustain a twelve-month tourist season.
Lisa G. found us through a Living Social coupon a couple of years ago. Since then, she has been back twice with her husband and twice with her mother. Proof enough that she likes it here.
But last week, Lisa resigned from a high profile and high stress job in Connecticut, and she called over this past weekend to see if she could stay at Hampton Terrace for three nights this week. With her husband's blessing, she is enjoying some quiet time before tackling life's next challenge.
This morning at breakfast, Lisa was explaining to me why she considers Hampton Terrace such a respite. Firstly, she likes how she can park her car in our front driveway and leave it. A good thing, since last night it was buried under a foot of snow.... She walked a block to Nudel and had dinner at the kitchen counter, talking with Bjorn, the chef. Today, she said he plans to walk around town, maybe hike a little in Kennedy Park, and grab some lunch at Haven. Tonight, she says she will try Nudel again, since the menu will be different.
Secondly, she volunteered how comfortable she always feels here. She has been reading a book in front of the fireplace in the living room. She said she appreciated how much she feels at home, as opposed to how she would feel reading a book in a hotel lobby.
Finally, she remarked how good our housekeeping is. Convenient. Comfortable. Clean.
I should pay her for creating a new slogan for us.
An appropriately creepy theatre event in this October month: A live reading of Frankenstein, at Shakespeare & Co, right here in Lenox. The evening of October 31st, three actors will bring a monster to life before your eyes. The reading takes place in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at 7:30 on October 31st. Tickets are general admission, $15 for adults, $5 for kids.
Frankenstein is a classic precisely because it transcends any superficial horror. Modern “horror” films gloss over the moral churning of the type that consumes Victor Frankenstein, in the wake of his creation’s debut. The elation of a creator at the moment of creation is quickly subsumed by his doubts, worries and suspicions. And the psychological power struggle between the creator and the creation are the stuff, indeed, of classics.
Shakespeare & Co.’s adaptation promises to take you on a classic journey filled with suspense, twists, and terror that will make your Halloween oh-so Halloweeny.
May 6 brings a first – the first Berkshire Cycling Classic, brought to Lenox, MA by Sparta Cycling. A highlight of the event is the participation of German cyclist Erik Zabel. Zabel is known for his epic sprint skills. This will be his first cycling appearance in the US since the 1996 Olympics. His participation extends beyond simply cycling – he will also be making some speaking appearances as well.
The event offers cyclists (and spectators) two routes, one of 62 miles, and the other of 81 miles. The details on the event website make it sound really lovely from the participant perspective:
“Riders will be delighted with our 130km and 100km parcours, both featuring luscious scenery and challenging terrain as they sweep through the beautiful Berkshire Region. The routes will be fully supported by our experienced technical crew from Mavic USA, including two autos and two motorcycles to spearhead the rider support efforts. Additionally, area bicycle shops will set up “repair pits” along the racecourse. A broom wagon will follow the event, picking up riders unable to continue their efforts.
There will be three total feed zones, at the 30, 70 and 100 kilometer points, each manned by our trained staff and well-stocked with energy drinks, water, hot drinks (if the weather is cold), energy bars, small sandwiches, and fruits such as banana’s and sliced apples – The typical food a pro racer would find in his musette bag.”
Sounds like a Lenox destination event to us! That same lovely scenery is enjoyable by spectators as well, of course. They had us at “luscious”. Downloads of the course maps are available online, as are oodles of information about registration, volunteering, sponsors and more.
Cycling News (http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/zabel-to-ride-berkshire-cycling-classic-in-may)
Photo above courtesy of the event website.
In this forum I have a category called "Celebrity Guests." Well known musicians, television, stage or movie stars, etc. But increasingly, a growing set of "celebrities" are turning that phrase into something negative....and you know who I mean....rhymes with Dim, Dookie and Embarrass.
Additionally, we have recently hosted very well-known authors, novelists and playwrights here. People who would wince if I called them a celebrity...so let's start a new category called "Notable Guests" of Hampton Terrace.
And let's start with the most un-celebrity famous person I have ever met...Ann Beattie. She and her husband, Lincoln Perry, spent a couple of off-season, mid-week days here and we had a chance to converse over breakfast, enjoy a glass of wine in front of the fireplace, and generally spend some leisurely time. She was sincere, humble, self-effacing and as genuine a person as anyone I have ever met.
I cannot say I knew who she was. Not a reader of The New Yorker, or of fiction in general, I have to admit that my WOW occurred when Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox the day after she left and there she was...her new novel Mrs. Nixon featured with a photo, half-page article and a B+. Then I Googled her. WOW again. The New York Times called The New Yorker Stories one of the "Top 10 Books of 2010."
Here is what I did know: When I checked her in and was giving her a tour around the inn's common rooms the subject of The University of Virginia came up....mainly because there is a portrait of Mr. Jefferson in my bar. Ann offered that she had been teaching English at UVa since the mid 70s (except for a stint at Harvard). And then she also said her husband, Lincoln, was teaching art at U.Va and was painting the mural in Cabell Hall. I was an art major at Virginia...so the bond was permanent by that point.
She does not typically do readings in places as small as Lenox, but she went to college with the Lenox Bookstore owner, Matt Tannenbaum, and Lenox ended up on her intinerary.
So....just like the time I asked Laura Linney at a picnic...."now, exactly what do you do?," I kind-of did the same with Ann. I asked her what she was reading that night.
She told me it was somewhat different from her usual fare....short stories and novels. This was a "faux" biography...or a historical fiction...or something else entirely. She did not really know what to call it.
She had the idea to write an autobiography of Pat Nixon...only because Nixon was among the very few modern first ladies who have never written a memoir. In other words, one could only imagine what Pat Nixon thought about her husband, Viet Nam, Watergate, or any number of important events she witnessed first-hand. So Ann Beattie decided to write it for her.
Of course, she first immersed herself in all things Pat Nixon, including checking out Life Magazine photos to see how she dressed and carried herself in public. She admits not to be much of a Richard Nixon fan....which would certainly lead to some interesting suppositions. I told her sincerely that THAT sounded like a book I would want to read.
And then, of course, I went to Google: The website Slate stated by 1980 Ann was "the most famous young fiction writer in America." She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in the 1990s and has won numerous top awards including the PEN/Malamud Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Creative Writing at U.Va. Her short stories have populated The New Yorker for decades and found themselves in several collections deemed the best of the century.
So not only am I proud that I was able to host Ann Beattie and Lincoln Perry (more on him in another Notable Guest blog) but she just wrote to me, "...will most certainly see you again and have already told friends about your lovely place - I reviewed it for that travel site and meant every word..."
We will see you soon, Ann.
Actually...don't answer that yet.
I got a call several minutes ago. A nice lady booked a room for next weekend and told me she had considered about every inn in the area before committing to us. She asked why we were $75/night less than any place she looked into...yet we are rated higher on TripAdvisor than any of them. AND...we include a $30 wine gift card to the wine shop as part of the Romantic Weekend Package.
I could only reply, "Because I am an idiot."
But am I really? The last time we had a rate increase at Hampton Terrace was 2007. But our gross revenues are 30% higher in 2011 than in 2007...in spite of the economy and increased competition. That means we are hosting 30% more guests than four years ago. Susan and I are working 30% harder.
So I guess I am an idiot.
But not so fast my friend...borrowing a line from College Game Day. I went on to tell the lady that our goal at Hampton Terrace is to exceed expectations. I want our guests to drive away from Lenox feeling, "Wow, we really got a good value." And the proof is that 19 out of 20 reviews on TripAdvisor give us a 5 out of 5. Almost 400 reviews.
I certainly will not discount that occasionally we run into someone we cannot please. Or someone who was looking for a $500 experience for $199. That is the "HotWire.com" phenomenon.... because recent economic events have caused some 4-star hotels to offer 2-star prices. Lucky for those consumers...but not a business model that works in a 14-room inn.
So back to our prices. I often get asked if we offer AAA, Senior Citizen, or other discounts. I respond that our policy has always been to charge the least we can, in order to attract the most business. And apply that rate to everyone.
So there we are. Our rates vary between in-season or off-season. Mid-week or weekend.
This week we enter eight months of off-season rates. Our Romantic Weekend Special is less than $200/night for all rooms except the suites. That includes full, daily-changing, all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets of comfort food. We also provide $30 of wine or gourmet food of your choice to enjoy in your room, at our self-help bar, or in front of one of our many fireplaces. We help you plan your stay by providing lists of recommended restaurants and things to do in the area.
And according to my most recent call, we are $75 less than other inns. I guess I AM an idiot.
Seems quintessentially New England. A caroling choir on a street corner merrily entertaining by-standers. Snow on the ground. Smell of fireplaces and hot chocolate. Nice.
So what do you think about up to 30 of them? In competition? Worth a visit to what is already the quintessential New England town?
Welcome to the Lenox Caroling Festival.
The Berkshires, rated the #7 destination in the world by National Geographic Traveler is already known for its world-class events. Boston Globe once pronounced this area "an aggregation of performing arts unmatched anywhere in America:" Tanglewood, Shakespeare and Company, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Barrington Stage Company, Jacob's Pillow...
But many of these organizations only present during the summer "season." The Lenox Caroling Festival was conceived to inspire a critical mass of varied performances during the "holiday season." Already, the December 10th weekend calendar is filling up: Shakespeare & Company is presenting the "Santaland Diaries," Ventfort Hall has a decorator showcase and other activities, the Lenox Library is hosting a Gingerbread House contest, there is a tour of homes/inns. The calendar is expanding. Bottom line....a visit to Lenox on that weekend is a guarantee of satisfying entertainment.
The Lenox Caroling Festival will feature approximately 30 choirs performing throughout the day, Saturday, December 10th, at six locations around Lenox Village (a town of only two square blocks). You....the audience...will get to vote on your favorite performances.
The winner will be announced at Shakespeare & Company at 6 pm, where the winning choir will perform again. First place is $2,000....a very generous bounty in the world of choraling competitions. Lenox is serious about this!
Visit the Lenox Choraling Competition website, where local businesses have posted special offers and coupons. Hampton Terrace has rooms available and is offering the Romantic Weekend Package and off-season rates.