If you thought The George Washington Hotel’s manager, Suzi Smith, would be anything other than a Harley Davidson riding grandmother of 12, you’d be dead wrong. This woman is a trendsetter and trailblazer; she’s got the keen eye and sharp mind necessary to run a hotel with a long history like the George Washington.
The hotel, situated in the heart of downtown Winchester, Virginia, has a long history dating back to 1924. As Suzi explains, “In 1924, you didn’t even have plumbing and everything. You paid a premium, like $7.00 a night to have plumbing in a room! Over the years things were modernized a little bit, so plumbing was added, so each guest room had its own bathroom… And then when the hotel was sold, it became Winchester Home for Adults — they were almost like little apartments.”
She goes on to explain that some of the floors were even rented out as office space. “I think during that time some of the floors were even used as housing for Shenandoah University students. I’ve heard so many people say ‘Oh yeah, I lived here when I was in college!’ or ‘So and so had their office here!’” The building was restored and finally developed into a Wyndham property in 2004, to which Suzi has devoted 10 out of the 14 years since its remodel.
Q: What does your average day look like as the manager of the hotel?
I’ll start off by saying that from knowing Suzi and how busy she usually is, there is no real “average” day for her. She confirms, “As the general manager, I oversee everything. I try to touch every part of the hotel everyday. I might step into laundry early in the morning before the house keepers go upstairs. I walk through the building in the morning and just say good morning to everybody! Many of these people come in earlier than I do — they’ve already opened up the restaurant and like laundry, the ladies here are already ready to go.” Outside of making the rounds, Suzi is busy crunching numbers, helping make the best decisions for the hotel physically and financially, organizing, making calls, answering e-mails, and resolving issues. She also loves personally greeting and chatting with guests when she has the spare time.
There’s a famous quote by Peter Drucker that goes a little something like this: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Suzi has managed to merge the two to create her own unique style, one that gets her out from behind the desk and in front of the people who matter. Every position at the GW Hotel is a vital one, from laundry cleaner to chef to manager. All hands must be on deck and communication is key; Suzi has managed to make the hotel feel like a second home for its many employees
Q: How are you helping shape the future of The George Washington? How do you perceive the future of the hotel?
When you look at travel today, it sometimes can seem like a daunting challenge for the hotel industry to stay afloat with AirBnB as a competitor. I was curious to know how this hotel was combatting the rising trend of the “authentic”, spontaneous stay versus a more planned, commercial one.
“So that’s a good question, because it is young folks like you who are coming out more and more who want the experience of Airbnb. I feel like I’ve already shaped the hotel a lot, because I’ve been here 10 years as director of sales and marketing! I feel like I’ve helped bring us to where we are.
I think there’s always going to be a market. There’s gonna be a market for the hotel, there’s gonna be a market for that person who wants a BnB experience, or an AirBnB experience, and the convenience of that. Our location alone is one of the draws to this hotel, let’s be honest! We’re the only property that’s sitting in downtown Winchester, so we are convenient for that person who wants to park the car and not have to move it again. You don’t have to drive anywhere downtown, there are 35 restaurants you can walk to! So for the person who wants the experience of parking their car and not having to move, we are that.”
She adds, “And during the week, we’re very much a corporate hotel. So we have the transient leisure travelers during the week,” who are mainly here for meetings or business trips and appreciate the comfort and privacy that The George Washington offers. It’s also worth noting that this hotel is quite a popular destination for weddings, so there’s never a shortage of brides, grooms, friends and family looking for non-weather dependent options as gorgeous as the hotel’s ballrooms. For those guests, home for the night is just a short elevator ride away!
Q: What is your favorite thing to order off the menu at George’s Food & Spirits?
For those just tuning in, George’s Food and Spirits is the hotel’s official restaurant – and it’s good. If you’re fond of seafood, you’ll take great delight browsing through their many offerings of fish, crab, and oysters (their specialty). They’ve got an amazing set of chefs in the kitchen who make sure that every forkful of dinner is as delicious as the next.
Unfortunately, Suzi suffers from several allergies that restrict her from eating a lot of the menu items, but that hasn’t stopped the chefs from creating what they jokingly call the “Suzi Special”! A bed of spinach topped with bacon, tomato slices, and fresh grilled chicken, the healthy and safe concoction has become a bonding and conversational piece between her and her staff.
Q: What’s been a memorable experience you’ve had while working here?
“I’ll tell you; this is the truth. I think the best experience I’ve ever had here is every day when I walk in the door. I’m just so lucky to work here and that’s how I feel when I walk in the door. It’s so beautiful and I walk in every day and go, ‘Wow, I’m just so lucky that this is where I get to come everyday to work,’ and that’s probably the best experience I’ve had here. I love the people who work here, you know, I love all of our staff, they’re like family. For me, that’s what the best experience is.”
She goes on to explain a fun encounter she had with the one and only country music star Tim Mcgraw, where she was able to personally meet him and get to know him.
“I can tell you lots of famous people who have stayed here, but probably my favorite was Tim Mcgraw because he was such a normal person! He was here under a different name and when the travel agent called me to book the room (we knew it was a celebrity, we knew it was not a real name) it was right before he arrived when she finally told me who it was.” Suzi and Tim made for fast friends and is an experience that she’ll never forget.
The George Washington Hotel is in good hands and when you stay there, you will be too. Suzi is completely down to earth and friendly; she will welcome you into the hotel with open arms whether you’re an employee, vacationer, business traveler, bride-to-be, or celebrity. It’s not everyday that you find someone in this industry with such good intentions and an amazingly warm personality to match it, but the George Washington Hotel has found just that in their General Manager. If you’re looking for a place to stay that bridges the gap between historical grandeur and modernity, this is it.
I want to extend a personal thank you to Suzi Smith, a petite powerhouse of a woman who is helping push Winchester’s oldest hotel into the future.