RED BANK – The Molly Pitcher Inn, a 106-room hotel overlooking the Navesink River, has closed until March, executives said, in a bid to save money until the coronavirus fades and warmer weather returns.
Kevin Barry, vice president and operations manager, said the hotel will divert guests to Oyster Point, its smaller, sister hotel next door, and use the lull to spruce up the Molly Pitcher.
The company furloughed about 200 employees. Barry said it didn’t make financial sense to continue to operate two hotels this winter “just based on the cancellations, based on people’s confidence.”
The Molly Pitcher Inn is a magnet for the borough, attracting visitors for corporate meetings during the week and guests for banquets and special events on weekends.
Its hiatus comes as hotel owners await another round of financial aid from the federal government, hoping the recently signed law includes enough relief to make it through the pandemic.
The virus has hampered leisure and business travel alike. Since March, just 32% of consumers had taken an overnight vacation and 8% of workers had taken a business trip, according to a recent survey by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group.
Before the latest federal aid package was passed, 71% of hotel operators said they wouldn’t survive another six months, the American Hotel and Lodging Association said.
The Molly Pitcher and Oyster Point, both operated by the family-owned J.P. Barry Hospitality Inc., were well positioned, Barry said.
But the year has been a test.
The company during the first quarter of 2020 turned in its best financial performance in its 30-year history, and it was poised to continue its momentum when the coronavirus hit the Shore in March.
The company closed for three months, and Barry himself was among the first wave of residents to contract the disease, developing a 104-degree fever and losing his taste and smell for six weeks.
The company reopened the hotels in June, starting with the Oyster Point and then the Molly Pitcher.
By then, they had to abide by new restrictions. Weddings were scaled back, celebrated without cocktail hours or dancing. The swimming pool, a popular gathering spot, could only accommodate 50 people. Out-of-state guests quarantined, ordering room service instead of visiting the restaurant, Barry said.
All told, business fell off by about 60%, Barry said.
The company survived thanks in part to aid from the Paycheck Protection Program, which, Barry said, lasted through the fall, and newfound flexibility. It expanded outdoor dining and offered fall boat tours up the Navesink River.
But the disease could throw a wrench into the day. The Molly Pitcher, for example, temporarily closed two weeks ago after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, Barry said. (It reopened after other employees tested negative.)
Next door at Oyster Point, Barry said, executives recently tried to contain another potential outbreak, only to learn that the employee simply had a cold.
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The precautions ran counter to the hospitality industry’s instincts. Instead of encouraging guests to have a good time, hotel staff included a provision in contracts for special events saying it could shut down an event if it believed its employees were being put at risk, Barry said.
“It was against all of our DNA,” Barry said during an interview at the Molly Pitcher. “I mean, we’re here to throw a party. We’re here to make sure everyone has fun. And to be going around saying, ‘Oh, sorry, sir, can you put your mas on please, can you guys spread out a little bit” was new to the job description.
With New Jersey in the midst of a second wave of the virus, company officials decided to close the Molly Pitcher for about three months — a move likely made easier with a new round of financial aid on the way.
As the year came to an end, Barry sounded hopeful. The hotel can reopen its new outdoor dining operation when the weather improves. It rescheduled many of the weddings that were postponed. And it will begin to invest in new kitchen equipment and carpeting, he said.
“I think we’re going to have a really good year,” he said. “You know, we’ve been through the wringer and we’ve come out pretty well.”
Michael L. Diamond is a business reporter who has been writing about the New Jersey economy for more than 20 years. He can be reached at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: ‘Against all our DNA’: After challenging year, Molly Pitcher Inn closes until March