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.
Ventfort Hall, located across the street from Hampton Terrace, was featured last month on a nationally televised episode of Ghost Hunters.
So it is entirely in context to carry the ghost theme into Halloween Weekend.
A full slate of activities has been planned for this upcoming weekend, including a lecture by Andrew Lake, author of "Ghost Hunting in Southern New England," which analyzes ghost sightings in thirty legendary haunted places, including Ventfort Hall.
Also, the weekend includes a presentation from Chicopee Paranormal Investigators, who have done ten examinations of the mansion and will present a summary of their findings.
On the afternoon of the 31st, a "Ghostly Tea" will be held by Intuitive Spirit Medium, Lisa Lanno.
For information on ALL of these events and more CLICK HERE.
Shakespeare and Company, located a mere block from Hampton Terrace attempts to program year-round to provide entertainment of the highest caliber to Berkshire visitors. For ticket information CLICK HERE.
The Berkshire Visitors Bureau is the official destination marketing organization for the Berkshires. It receives state funding as a "regional tourism council" and also orchestrates campaigns on behalf of its 700 members, including Hampton Terrace.
Reminding potential visitors about what the Berkshires can offer is increasingly difficult as budgets tighten at the state level, at not-for-profits like the Norman Rockwell Museum and Tanglewood, and at corporate members, like Canyon Ranch and Jiminy Peak.
So the message has to be clean, concise, targeted and results-oriented.
Would you not agree that the campaign above fits the bill? These posters appear in many dozens of rail and subway stations in Boston for the next several months. Hits at the Berkshire Visitors Bureau website are up 20% since the campaign started...and that is no small feat since the BVB website is already the #1 ranked website utilizing the term "Berkshires."
The goal is to do New York City next year. Very smart people are behind this campaign and I cannot imagine it will not happen.
Larry Murray, creator of the Berkshire on Stage website reviewed The Who's Tommy, which was produced from scratch in a week... for a mere two-week run at the Berkshires' Colonial Theater. I quote:
Last night there was a miracle – in more ways than one – on South Street in Pittsfield. The Who’s Tommy is the first production of the newly minted Berkshire Theatre Group and it was more than good, or great. It was heart-thumpingly fantastic. By the time the classic story of Peter Townshend’s deaf, dumb and blind boy had been told, the audience was up and out of its seats, whooping, hollering, dancing in the aisles with complete joy and abandon. In decades of seeing theatre, including the original Broadway version of Tommy, and its national road show company, I have never seen anything like this response before. My delight with the show was pretty unexpected too, as I found tears of joy suddenly streaming down my face.
My response was the same. Unlike Mr. Murray (who by definition sees every play produced in the Berkshires every year), I had never seen any version of Tommy. Okay...I did see the movie, nothing more than a progression of over-the-top star-cameos of the songs.
Pete Townshend has produced a miraculous work...which succeeds on many levels....offering every listener (yes, it was originally just a record) or audience member to project his or her own fears/insecurities/dreams/experiences and triumphs to the literally blank slate that is the boy, "Tommy." Or, having just read biographies of Eric Claption and each of the Beatles, Tommy could be the story arc of about any British invasion star. Or, as I ponder what life must appear like to my teenage twins and their friends: the better-than-average chance of being exposed to and damaged emotionally by family tragedy, bullying, sexual abuse, drugs, and/or other "challenges" thrown to "deaf, dumb and blind" minds. Like pinballs bouncing around the bumpers.
SO.... The genius of this production is that Director Eric Hill let the story tell itself. A collaboration with Pete Townshend himself.
How novel. Hollywood never met a book it didn't think it could improve (are you listening Steven Spielberg?)
Hill and his actors tell the story, as it was conceived, through the music....powerfully performed and masterfully staged and choreographed.
I think Larry Murray did a wonderful job with his review, so I won't go further.
I wish everyone I know could have shared this experience with me. Especially my high school friends. Back in the day we used to plug a turntable into a Fender Twin amp and listen to music the way it was created....volume turned to 10.
Photos by Christie Wright and Jaime Davidson
Our sons, Colin and Tristan Rosen, graduated from high school yesterday. Tanglewood is the venue for most of the high school graduations in the Berkshires. Beats the school auditorium.
For the graduates, standing on the stage at Tanglewood makes for an unforgettable experience. This is a quite brilliant gesture on Tanglewood's part, in that virtually all of these kids are heading somewhere outside of the area for college.
And why not send them off with a strong imprint of what makes the Berkshires special.
Our daughters both graduated from Lenox, and both ultimately moved back. Many of their friends did as well.
While teenagers, very few of them appreciated what the area had to offer. Lenox is "boring," they all would have told you. But their exposure to classical music at Tanglewood (local teens know how to slip under the hedge and hang in the maze during concerts), theater (Shakespeare & Company produces and directs Shakespeare classics in all of the schools), and art (student art shows are held in local galleries and mansions), et al, represents the subliminal placement of seedlings.
Ultimately, as adults, they will compare their quality of life with their memories of the Berkshires. Their biggest challenge, if they choose to move back, is finding a career.
A new initiative, 1Berkshire, is tackling the issue. A consolidation of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Creative Economy, and the Berkshire Economic Development Council, the new entity will attempt to create a fertile ground for new businesses, collaborations and relocations to the area. I serve on the steering committee of this exciting initiative, and do so having seen the challenges my daughters and their husbands encountered seeking career employment in the Berkshires.
Our sons are heading to Florida State in Tallahasee. Whether they come back to the area will depend on many unforseen factors, but hopefully a lack of good jobs will not keep them away.