All around the world, hotels are stepping up to offer their service in the fight against COVID-19. One of them is the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
As we all learned over the last weeks, events move quickly in a pandemic. As cases escalated here in our hometown of New York City, we had heard heart-wrenching stories of hospital personnel sleeping in their cars to avoid exposing their families to the virus. The Wythe Hotel had heard these stories too, and they wanted to help.
A day before closing to the public, the hotel sent a message to the New York governor’s office, offering what they could — namely, lodging — for frontline workers. They weren’t sure if the state would take them up on it. One day after ceasing normal operations, they received their answer at the same time as the rest of the world:
Proud to see NY's hotels stepping up!
The Plaza Hotel, @StRegisNewYork and @YotelHQ will provide their facilities for non-critical care patients or medical personnel.@RoomMateGraceNY & @WytheHotel will offer free rooms to medical workers responding to #COVID.
NY thanks you.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 26, 2020
After Governor Cuomo tweeted his announcement, the Wythe was now officially on the front lines. The governor’s office connected them with an administrator at NYU Langone — a hospital with locations around the city — and they began filling rooms with local medical staff. The first arrived four days after the governor’s tweet. When we spoke earlier this week to Will Jordan, Director of Revenue Management at the Wythe, the waiting list was up to 250.
In its new purpose, the Wythe — with the concrete floors and brick walls of a typical reclaimed Williamsburg factory — doesn’t look all that different. The layout hasn’t changed. There are no beds in the lobby, no impromptu set-ups in the hallway, nothing much more than the stanchions directing guests to the correct elevator, and the self-service station stocked with hand sanitizer, to indicate the drastic change of circumstances.
And yet, of course, everything has changed. Common spaces are closed. Masks are mandatory. Two of its guest floors now house hotel staff, while the remaining four house medical workers. There is no housekeeping, and what small staff remains is mostly volunteer as the Wythe awaits fulfillment of its loan for federal relief.
In better times, back when we first added the Wythe to our site, we wrote that it “exemplifies the character of the neighborhood it calls home.” That sentiment takes on new meaning now, as crucial work gets done despite the furloughs and the crises. Volunteers help with the arrival process, sanitize religiously, and keep necessities in stock. The restaurant, Le Crocodile, no longer serves the hotel, but for now works exclusively to prepare and deliver meals to a local ICU. Partnerships with ATLIST and HOKA provide care packages and fresh shoes to the healthcare workers filling the rooms.
If we’ve learned anything else collectively over the past few weeks, it’s that bonds can still form, even in the most isolating times. And because the Wythe has focused their efforts on local workers, it means their guests and their staff share the same community. In one heartbreaking twist of fate, when an employee of the hotel lost a family member to COVID-19, doctors from the hospital where she passed were themselves current guests of the Wythe. They placed flowers in the lobby, alongside a handwritten message of hope.
“When you’re working through a crisis and your hotel is filled with real-life heroes, it gives you a strong sense of purpose and determination,” says Mr. Jordan. “It’s an honor to be able to support these people in whatever small way we can, and their gratitude and concern for our own staff in return is humbling.”
The Wythe hopes they can proceed with a limited reopening sometime in May. In the meantime, when asked what the community at large could do to support them, Jordan requested only that “everyone follow CDC guidelines, and do what’s right for the vulnerable people in our communities.”
“That’s the only way we’re going to get back to doing what we do.”
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When it’s time again to travel, if you’re considering a trip to New York City, be sure to consider staying at the Wythe Hotel, located in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.