Blackwell hotels hit hard by Coronavirus pandemic

by Charles Gerian

For the first time, hotel rooms were empty for spring break.

For the first time, families won't be pouring into hotel lobbies from across the country for prom or graduation.

In Blackwell, the coronavirus has hotels at a stand-still.

“It's a ripple effect,” Mitzi Graham, manager of the Super 8 Motel on Doolin Ave., said. “We have a lot of contracted guests that are keeping us afloat right now, but even then … they come to town, and they want to shop,” she said.

“They want to get food, they want to go out. This has affected everything for us. We host a lot of pilot cars, interstate traffic, we get a lot of people visiting for prom, graduation, passing through on spring break … and we've got none of that right now.”

Graham, speaking through Super 8's plexiglass divider at the front desk, said it would have been a record month. But she said the coronavirus pandemic hasn't impacted the hotel's dedication to service. “We still have cleaning supplies, and we've always made sure our rooms and hotel were as clean as possible,” she said.

“We're providing grab-and-go breakfast meals to guests, and of course, we have several restaurants locally that are delivering.”

Near the interstate, Sleep-Inn General Manager Belinda Compala shared Graham's sentiments.

“Our occupancy is down from 50-70% to about 20-30%,” Compala said in the empty hotel lobby. “We've had to make adjustments to ensure that we're following all the [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines with how we clean, do laundry, and all of our routine tasks.” Compala said shortages of supplies and bulk-buying have hit the hotel hard.

“We were facing a mask shortage, but we've had several cloth ones provided for us from local merchants, which has been amazing,” she said. “We have hand-sanitizing stations set up, a 6-feet divider at the front-desk, and we've replaced our traditional breakfast with a grab-and-go meal option.”

The countertop and other surfaces are cleaned and disinfected following each contact with a guest.

Compala said hotel rates have been heavily reduced as well. The end of the school year and the beginning of summer are huge for Blackwell hotels. Compala and Graham both noted that the regular “cold weather” guests – who travel from areas like Colorado and Canada south through Oklahoma in search of warmer weather – had to cut vacations short or cancel them.

That means there is less road-trip traffic to boost the local economy.

At the SureStay by Best Western, General Manager Noah Clegg said that his hotel has been fortunate to have several contracted guests from interstate road crews and oilfield workers. “It's mostly been people trying to get home,” Clegg said. “They stop in for a night, cutting their vacation short. They just want to be back somewhere safe.”

Clegg said the general mood has been “weird.”

“We're just doing what we've always done, trying to provide people with a safe, clean, atmosphere,” he said. “We've always prided our cleanliness, and this has been no exception.”

While SureStay has had to cut employee hours, Clegg said he hopes to have everyone back once the pandemic clears. “I was looking forward to seeing the summer traffic everyone talks about,” he said, “but that'll have to wait for when things are safer.”

Employees at Blackwell's Holiday Inn were not available for comment as of press time. Blackwell's SureStay, Super 8, Sleep Inn, and Holiday Inn have reduced their rates for travelers and have posted coronavirus statements on their respective websites.