Bath County hit hard by resort closures
Communities across the state are hurting from coronavirus-related layoffs and closures, but in Bath County, “it’s devastating,” says state Sen. Creigh Deeds, whose law practice is located on Hot Springs’ Main Street.
“Two major employers are closed,” he says, referring to The Omni Homestead Resort and The Greenbrier resort just over the West Virginia line. “Employees are furloughed. People’s lives are upset.”
In March, The Omni Homestead, which opened more than a century ago and is now owned by Omni Hotels & Resorts, announced it was closing until at least May 15. This was after all of its spring conferences and bookings were canceled in the days after the coronavirus spread to Virginia — which forced the resort to furlough 700 of its 800 employees. The Greenbrier announced it was closed until it’s safe to reopen.
According to the Virginia Employment Commission, 524 Bath County residents filed for unemployment benefits between March 14 and April 11, representing a 20.7% unemployment rate, up from 2.7% in February. Some locals were employed by other businesses, of course, Deeds notes, just as The Omni Homestead and Greenbrier employ many people who hail from other counties.
Omni was preparing to make significant renovations to the resort, and its famous Jefferson Pools, which were closed for repairs, were set to reopen this summer.
John Hess, Homestead’s director of sales and marketing, said in April that the furloughed employees, who would be brought back gradually after the resort reopens, received wages for any earned time off, as well as any disability pay. They also have been given the option of remaining on the resort’s benefits program.
The reopening of the Jefferson Pools and the resort’s renovation plans are still moving ahead, “however, the impact of the coronavirus could impact dates,” Hess notes.
March 25 was Amanda Gwin’s last day at the Omni Homestead before being furloughed. These days, the reservations manager spends time at home in Covington with her 19-year-old son, hiking, gardening and talking to friends via teleconference.
Her team had received dozens of calls earlier in March canceling reservations, including business groups, some of whom have rebooked for later in the year. “Then, of course, as COVID-19 got bigger, I saw a decline in the bookings,” she says, but many regular guests assured her they will return. “I do truly believe we have that loyalty.”
Between the payout of her remaining time off, state unemployment benefits and the federal stimulus check, Gwin will be OK financially, she says, “as long as this is a short-term world shutdown.”