The good news is that the fire is out. The four-alarm fire that engulfed the Wayfinder Hotel on Monday night, which took around 100 firefighters to extinguish, was finally extinguished early Tuesday morning.
Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or fatalities. But there was damage. Lots of damages. A third of the building was physically damaged and the entire building badly affected by smoke. The future of the hotel and Nomi Park, the restaurant inside the hotel, is in question.
With firefighters still digging through the rubble looking for causes and the curious gathering to check out the aftermath, this is another sad time for our hospitality community.
The summary:What to Know About the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, RI
The morning after the fire, knowing that everyone – employees and guests – were safe, the hotel team transferred their concerns to those who had booked rooms for the upcoming holiday weekend. There are people all over New England and beyond who have been looking forward to this Memorial Day in Newport and have booked this centrally located hotel well in advance to ensure a great weekend.
On Tuesday, they got calls the hotel is closed. But although the building is in ruins, efforts are being made to help those who have reservations. The hotel community is still stepping up to help its comrades, and other hoteliers are stepping up to help find space for displaced guests.
The following :Investigation begins following ‘stubborn’ fire at renovated Wayfinder Hotel in Newport
This is Aquidneck Island hospitality at its finest.
And even if the help is there for the weekend, it’s only the beginning of the season. Part of the cruelty of this fire was its timing, occurring at the very start of the summer season. What will happen to all guests who have booked at the hotel in June, July and August? Other hoteliers can only offer a limited amount of space – they have to take care of their own reservations.
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Will those displaced Wayfinder guests still come to town? What will happen to weddings and hen parties that had booked a block of rooms? It’s not just the loss of the hotel. Each person booked at the Wayfinder would have spent money on other businesses in town.
They would have made dinner reservations at our fantastic restaurants. They would have grabbed coffee and pastries from one of our large bakeries. They would have bought tickets for visits to mansions and museums. Did the fire also remove this income? Time will tell, but these are the effects that a disaster like this can have on our community. One company impacts another.
The hotel employs over 100 local residents, more if restaurant staff are included. What will happen to their income? If the hotel or restaurant remains open to some extent, it’s hard to imagine either would need the same levels of staff.
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While, yes, there are positions available across the city in the hospitality industry, finding a new job is never ideal. If you work at the Wayfinder, you probably do it because you like it. You probably liked the location, the people, the experience. You are comfortable there.
Now you have to find a new home. And wherever you go, you will start the summer season a little late. You will jump straight into the fray. It wasn’t the summer the Wayfinder employees had expected.
Everyone in the hospitality industry has high expectations for the upcoming summer. With COVID still rearing its ugly head, there’s a sense of promise that this is the summer when we can get back to normal (and hopefully better than normal) activities.
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We look forward to tourists, summer fun, busy nights and days. This summer was going to be a memorable one in the hospitality industry for all the right reasons. And now this fire. One of our colleague’s establishments was reduced to ruins even before the start of summer.
It reminds us how fragile our industry can be. After these last two years, we are well aware that our destiny can change without warning. Monday’s fire was just one more reminder of how quickly our world can change overnight.
It is, of course, a huge relief that no one was injured in the fire. And if we want to look on the bright side, there’s some consolation to be found in the fact that the whole building wasn’t destroyed. Hopefully Wayfinder owners will commit to rebuilding once they assess the damage.
They should be proud of what they’ve built here in Newport. They have transformed a high level hotel space into something unique. They renamed the place and made it theirs. They built a fun hotel, a fun restaurant and a fun place to hang out.
The fire is a tragedy. We will have to see how this will affect our local economy and industry. Aquidneck Island’s hospitality industry has survived worse, but this is a bad way to start our summer.
And to all those Wayfinder employees waiting to see what’s next, know that your friends in hospitality have your back.
Dan Lederer is a Middletown resident with 30 years experience in the restaurant industry throughout New England. He continues to work locally behind the scenes in the industry and remains a dedicated fan of all things restaurant and hospitality. His column appears on newportri.com and Thursdays in The Daily News. Cheers!