A couple of days ago I mentioned historic Trinity Church, which is located across the street from Hampton Terrace. It occurred to me, as I stand on my front porch, there are a LOT of iconic sights from our front door.
Ventfort Hall was built in 1893 by Sarah Morgan, sister of J. P. Morgan at a cost of $950,000. In those days, an impressive mansion could be built for $10,000, so this demostrates the scale of this Jacobean-Revival home. Sarah and J. P. each inherited about $1,000,000 from their father. J. P. used his inheritance to ultimately become the richest man in America. Sarah used hers to build this summer home.
Dont feel sorry for her. She married George Morgan - her first cousin, who was also J. P.'s business partner, so there was plenty of subsequent cash flow to fuel the Gilded Age lifestyle.
The Morgans kept the summer home until they died, after which it was rented by Margaret Vanderbilt, whose husband, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, had died on the Lusitania.
Like many of Lenox's "cottages," Ventfort Hall was left abandoned for many decades. But a very strong local effort to save it was led by Tjasa Sprague, and now Ventfort Hall is completely stable and undergoing a multi-phase renovation. All of the main floor public spaces are done, as well as most of the second floor bedrooms.
Ventfort Hall has become "The Museum of the Gilded Age" and is open for daily tours. Tjasa and her staff have energetically filled the calendar with social functions, lectures and events. It has become quite the resource for Lenox.
Most of our guests at Hampton Terrace have taken advantage of our close proximity and taken the tour. I find myself taking such things for granted, which is why I decided to focus on iconic places beyond our front door. This is truly one of American's great remaining mansions.
We have always claimed Hampton Terrace is well located. How about this? Yesterday afternoon there was a wedding directly across the street from us, in the intimate and historic Trinity Church. Turns out it was Yo Yo Ma's daughter, Emily.
Emily married John Mistovich of Londonberry, New Hampshire. Both Emily and John graduated from Harvard, she with a law degree.
Our relationship with Yo Yo seems to be one of "close proximity." From 1997 to 1999 Susan and I rented a 30-acre farm in Tyringham, MA, with a 1763 farmhouse. Yo Yo Ma bought the farm next door and constructed a beautiful home, designed to blend perfectly with the 240+ year old farmhouses in the neighborhood.
Ma is a fixture at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony. One summer, we received a call from our old Maoon friend, Claire, who said she heard Yo Yo was performing the Brandenberg Concerto in solo recital at Ozawa Hall. She said she planned to fly up to visit us, and hoped we could get tickets. This was with like....4 days notice. The concert had sold out 6 months prior. But I drove to the box office and waited for the window to raise at 10 am. I asked if, by miracle, any tickets had opened up for Yo Yo Ma. "Are you ever lucky!," the woman said. "We decided to sell several circles of "stage seats." I bought the first 3 seats available. Picture two small semi-circles of chairs framing the solist...and us in seats 1, 2 and 3 in the closest circle. We were literally 6 feet to the left of him as he looked out over the audience. He looks to the left as he plays, with eyes closed and always a smile on his face. 2 hours of that. Can you imagine?
After the show, he greeted fans in the green room, and the line predictably, was a block long. As is his reputatoon, Yo Yo greeted and chatted with everyone in the line - seemingly in no hurry. Our friend Claire (last name to be withheld) gushed...."Yo Yo.....I want to have your baby!."
We have seen Yo Yo many times since, both onstage and around the area. It is a phenomenon. Arguably the most famous classical music performer in the world....Yo Yo Ma acts like he has never met a stranger. He is warm, interested and fully engaged with everyone he meets.
Back to Trinity Church. The door to the church is always open. Hampton Terrace guests are welcome to roam around inside and check out this historic building - constructed by the Gilded Age families who populated Lenox and the Berkshires at the turn of the century.
We have owned Hampton Terrace for more than 15 years at this point, and we have certainly developed a feel for our area, and the best times to come.
Not to take anything away from our celebrated summer season: Tanglewood (Summer home of the Boston Symphony) and all of the museums, theater, music, historic sites, restaurants, shops and nature. National Geographic Traveler has ranked us "The #7 Destination in the World."
The majority of the 3 million visitors to the Berkshires come July and August. Inn prices are higher during the "season" ( plus 3 night weekend minimums) and lines form for everything.
October also contributes heartily to the 3 million visitor tally.
Many Berkshire attractions are seasonal. Most of the historic house tours only run between Memorial Day and late October. Some restaurants close from November until Spring. Most of the theater companies take the same period off.
The crowds leave after Labor Day and return for Fall Foliage. So September is lightly visited - and we drop to off-season rates.
Yet our guests get almost as many county-wide amenities and opportunies as the July/August/October visitors.
The Hampton Terrace pool is still open in September, and we still feature our all-you-can-eat buffet breakfasts.....but our rooms are $70/night less!
And on top of that....locals go the extra mile to make September attractive to visitors: The Lenox Tub Parade (September 13), Lenox Apple Squeeze (September 27-28) and numerous Fall Festivals in surrounding towns. The farms all feature Fall activities (pumpkins, apples, corn mazes).
And you can know that ALL of the historic house tours, restaurants, seasonal shops, will be open - and many of the theater and music presenters are still programming (minus Tanglewood and Jacob's Pillow).
SO.....weekend or midweek - stay at Hampton Terrace for just $229/night and let us help you steer around the Berkshires.
A HUGE THANK YOU - especially to our loyal multi-repeat guests - for helping us set records at Hampton Terrace this summer.
It seemed a little sketchy at first: a long winter and rainy Spring seemed to cause people to contact us later than usual for summer bookings, especially for midweek.
BOOM. Full house from mid-June through Labor Day. And SO MUCH POSITIVE ENERGY! It seemed everyone loved everything they did in the area: The Sterling Clark Art Institute re-opening. Museums. Theater. Tanglewood. Restaurants. House Tours. Hiking.
Susan and I sincerely appreciate you all! Thanks for treating Hampton Terrace as your home-away-from-home!!!
TripAdvisor is the #1 website in the world for accommodation reviews.
Only the top 10% of reviewed hotels, inns and b&bs earn a "Certificate of Excellence."
Hampton Terrace has earned this award every year of TripAdvisor's existence. We have to thank our wonderful guests, many of whom are enthusiastic enough about their experience to write a review. To date, more than 650 couples have reviewed us, with more than 600 of them giving us a 5 out of 5 score: "Excellent."
It is possible to do a TripAdvisor search for Lenox hospitality properties, as well as Berkshire properties. In both cases, Hampton Terrace ranks #1.
A very important point, from our perspective: This is a survey of "guest satisfaction" in various categories, such as location, rooms, service, value, etc. Susan and I go the extra mile to make sure our guests receive the best possible experience here.
We don't pretend that Hampton Terrace is the "best" hospitality property in the Berkshires. With Canyon Ranch, Wheatleigh, Blantyre, Cranwell, Red Lion, and more than 100 other resorts, hotels, inns and b&bs, we KNOW that there are many terrific places - in every price range.
But once again, we want to thank our guests for recognizing our efforts to please them with the 2014 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award.
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?
Mark and Matthew did it again. Last year, their shots of our guest rooms resulted in a 20% jump in our 2009 revenue. At that time, we did not get a chance to photograph our public spaces or exterior. Done.
Also, Main House 5, our Walker Mini-Suite, was under renovation during their last visit, so we had new pictures done there as well.
Please visit our website to see!
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.