Williams College Buys Williams Inn, Brings in Manager
|Marilyn and Carl Faulkner are retiring after running the Williams Inn for 35 years.|
On Friday, they announced they are ready for their next challenge.
"It's time for us to retire," Carl Faulkner said at a news conference in the inn's banquet room.
"We think we've accomplished the perfect thing in that Williams College had its arm twisted, and they agreed to buy the building."
The college, in turn, announced it has entered a partnership with Stockbridge's Main Street Hospitality Group to manage the inn. Main Street currently manages the Red Lion Inn, where the company was founded, and the Porches in North Adams, and it is part of the group working to develop Pittsfield's planned Hotel on North.
The price of the business transfer was not released.
Main Street CEO Sarah Eustis said on Friday that the company is excited to be involved with the 128-room inn, which was built in 1974 on land owned by the college. The Faulkners have operated the business since 1979.
The late state Sen. John H. Fitzpatrick, who had owned the Red Lion Inn, was also a Williams alumnus.
"We're here and ready to make a smooth transition, using all the talent base we have at the Red Lion Inn and the Porches," she said. The business will change hands around May 1.
As part of its agreement with the college, Main Street Hospitality has agreed to retain the entire 45-person staff at the inn (60 during peak seasons) for at least six months, Eustis said. The Faulkners and representatives from the college and Main Street met with inn staff prior to Friday afternoon's public announcement.
"There's a six-month period of evaluation and getting to know each other where employees have their jobs here," Eustis said. "We'll be working with each one individually to see how it feels to them and how it feels to us and try to make everyone as comfortable as possible."
Main Street Chief Operating Officer Bruce Finn will handle day-to-day management for the company at the Williamstown property, Eustis said.
Finn said the most immediate change will involve new training for the inn staff.
"One thing we will be doing immediately from a training, service standpoint is bring the training program that has been successful for us at the Red Lion Inn and the Porches for all employees," he said. "Those are the things we can impact immediately — without spending any capital money — to improve the experience for the guest."
Finn said Main Street would work with the college to decide what sorts of changes will be made to the physical property, echoing a response from Williams College Treasurer Fred Puddester, who represented the school at Friday's announcement.
"We'll be assessing that," Puddester said. "We'll get advice from folks at Main Street. ... We have no firm plans."
The college has been talking for some time about building a new "boutique" hotel at the bottom of Spring Street, and those plans were not altered by the decision to purchase the Williams Inn.
"As you know, we hired a consultant to advise us on hospitality here in Williamstown," Puddester said. "Their recommendation was a smaller inn, a 60- to 80-bed inn on the base of Spring Street. Once we get things settled here at the Williams Inn, we'll begin to explore those plans to see whether that is possible.
"It's a challenging site at the base of Spring Street."
Carl Faulkner stressed that he is telling customers — including event planners and tour operators — that all commitments will be honored at the inn for at least the next two years.
While the college and Main Street Hospitality declined to speculate on what renovations might be made at the Williams Inn, its current owners have some opinions.
"My wife and I would say we think it's tired," Carl Faulkner said of the property. "The last couple of years, the economy has been in such a condition that we haven't been able to do the major renovations, the $100,000 and $200,000 renovations that we'd like to do. This is one way to see that the hotel gets what it needs.
"We renovated the second floor a few years ago, but I didn't have the ability to renovate the third floor. So there are a lot of things that — if my wife and I were 30 years younger and we had Uncle Rockefeller behind us — there are a lot of things we could do."
Eustis, meanwhile, praised the inn's current condition.
"We have been really impressed with what we have found in terms of the way the inn has been kept up, the quality of what's here," she said. "It's in very sound condition."
In addition to its 128 guest rooms, the Williams Inn features the banquet room, conference space, a restaurant, a bar and one of the few indoor pools in town. It also has an independently operated specialty shop, the Mindful Bird. The shop's owner said Friday that the college has agreed to honor its current lease.
College spokesman James Kolesar confirmed Friday that Williams is not the only college of its kind to own a hotel. Amherst College, for example, owns the Lord Jeffrey Inn on the Amherst Common.
When the college decided to purchase the Williams Inn, it made sense to bring in an outside manager, Kolesar said. Main Street Hospitality will be the only third-party manager on a Williams College property.
As for the Faulkners, they're looking forward to a much-deserved rest.
"I've never really had a day off," Carl Faulkner said. "My employees get a regular day off. I'm only allowed to stay home on Monday holidays, and there aren't many of them. ... My father, who was a professor who retired to France, I've had for the last five years all of his belongings sitting in a room, and I haven't had time to go through them. I moved them back here.
"I love being outdoors. And we love traveling. We've been to some exotic places. Maybe we'll travel. But I've got to tend to my fruit trees. I can't be gone when they're blooming."
Marilyn Faulkner had less ambitious plans.
"I think we'll just stay home for a while and catch up on things," she said.
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