Reflections on My First Year as Inn Director
As I sit in my office, looking out my window at the rapidly-accumulating snow, it seems incredible that only a year has passed since my arrival at Shelburne Farms. The intervening time has been remarkable. I’ve learned so much about this beautiful place, our talented and dedicated staff, and the amazing people who come to visit. And I’ve learned about all that happens to bring these three things together to support our broader mission of inspiring and educating for sustainability.
“Welcome to the Inn at Shelburne Farms. We are so delighted to have you as our guest.” As an innkeeper for much of my professional life, I have repeated lines like this more often than I can remember. It is normal to welcome guests to an establishment with a sense of proprietary pride.
So what a wonderful turnaround this year to find myself on the receiving end of this welcome. It was humbling and heartwarming to hear from our guests, “Welcome to Shelburne Farms! How are you settling in? Are you enjoying your time here?” It was such a terrific reminder that this magical place is a “home” to so many. Whether they visit once for a few days, or have visited for years – even decades, guests genuinely love and care for this place, and think of it as their own.
And guests are bonded to more than this place. They are bonded to each other. Many times I have been privileged to witness the reunion of long-time friends whose only connection was that they had become acquainted over the years as inn guests. Some will even reserve the same dates year to year in order to see each other. You might sometimes think that you had stumbled into someone’s home, full of close family and friends.
This sense of pride and ownership extends equally to the staff of Shelburne Farms. The hospitality industry is famous for having a high rate of staff turnover, and seasonal properties have an even harder time retaining talented people. Staff often come and go quickly, and seldom stop long enough to develop a sense of attachment to an inn or restaurant.
Shelburne Farms, on the other hand, seems to foster a love of place, a commitment to our organizational mission, and collegiality that flips that equation on its head. We are lucky enough to have staff in the kitchen, dining room, housekeeping, front office, guest services – truly in every department of the inn, that come back every year because of their love for Shelburne Farms and their commitment to the work of the organization.
When I chat with colleagues on the farm, whether with a year-round educator, a dining room server, a seasonal gardener, or a member of our Buildings and Grounds team, there’s a common theme: we are all proud to contribute in our own ways to an organization that we feel is doing such important work, at such an important time.
Now, in the winter, I find myself contributing to the life of the Farm in a new way. Even as I prepare for the coming season at the inn, I’ve been spending early morning doing calf chores at the dairy a few days a week, and stacking firewood in the woodlot. How could a farm boy turned innkeeper ask for more?
I feel tremendous gratitude for this past year and for the warm welcome. I look forward in the years ahead to deepening my ties to this property, its mission, my colleagues, and our guests.