High-season hotel space and a lost childhood reclaimed

By Brian King


As someone whose livelihood relies on selling wine to local hotels, restaurants and shops, I’ve said for years that it is incredibly appropriate that the Bear Flag Revolution happened right here in our square.

The reason is that, today, the annual cycle of our local economy is like that of a bear – we must fatten up as much as we can during the busy summer months to survive the lean hibernating winter months that lay ahead.

I’ve read a statistic about hotel occupancy in Sonoma being somewhere in the 60-percent range. Indeed, if you take the total occupancy and divide it by 365 days, you’ll get a figure somewhere in the 60s. But that would also be like saying that AT&T Park in San Francisco only averaged 10,000 fans, because you took the total attendance and divided it by a year. The real question is, what is the occupancy during those bud-break to harvest months (May through October) when our economy needs as much influx as possible? If someone bothers to ask that question, you’d find the answer to be more in the 95-to-100 percent range, and that is why this hotel is being brought up.

In my wife’s line of business, she’s had to direct people she’s working with during these months to stay as far away as Occidental, because of the lack of hotel space in their price range.

And she has recommended that people with plans to host an event here should book their rooms at least 15 to 18 months in advance. That’s not opinion, that’s fact.

With that in mind, what if you, as a lifetime Sonoman, wished to host a family reunion but found that, for the size of your party, you are forced to have relatives stay in Sebastopol or Occidental because of a lack of rooms in town?

The bottom line is this: A 60-room hotel isn’t a natural progression to blowing up City Hall and replacing it with an IKEA. A hotel of this size isn’t going to look like some Honolulu combo-skyscraper monstrosity. Times change, needs change.

The costs and challenges of being a small local business owner are different than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago, as you are no longer just competing with your neighbor, you are competing with everything online in a global economy. Holding back our ability to sustain ourselves for the sake of maintaining some “Leave it to Beaver” dream isn’t appropriate or progressive.

I leave you with this last anecdote. Although I’ve only lived here for a decade, both sides of my family have lived in the Bay Area since the 1880s. My mother grew up in a large family in a large ranch house in Walnut Creek, with peach orchards and all of that, and I have fond memories of family holidays there during my own childhood – Easter egg hunts, family weddings and such.

My grandparents sold that property a couple of decades ago and I passed by it shortly afterward, only to see everything gone and a cul-de-sac neighborhood in its place. I felt a part of my childhood was obliterated that day, and held bitterness toward that moment for many years.

Recently, I passed by there again, and do you know what I saw? A neighborhood party. Barriers blocking cars, bouncing house in the street, kids running around, neighbors laughing with food and drink in hand.

I broke down then and there as I became overwhelmed by the selfishness I was harboring all this time.

Here I was, feeling sorry for myself, but what I should have been doing was celebrating the myriad of childhood memories that were, and continue to be, created in its wake. I bless all of those families whose homes are where my memories once stood, and I hope that, in that light, regardless of what happens next week, the citizens of Sonoma can embrace any new hotel, restaurant, shop or event that chooses to be a part of our present and future.

And in that last thought, I hope I’ve made progress.

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  Brian King is a resident of Glen Ellen.