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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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A new space for off-campus students: Hotel Grinnell

The Periodic Table lounge in Hotel Grinnell, where students can sign up to hang out this year. Photo by Kaya Matsuura.

Hotel Grinnell is now open as a socially-distanced gathering space for off-campus Grinnell College students. After reserving a spot on the scheduling platform 25 Live, students can enjoy games, study spaces and unlimited free soda and coffee. The food available for sale is a limited version of the regular Periodic Table menu, including flatbread pizza, chips and salsa and a charcuterie board.

The hotel purchased games in order to attract students: there’s miniature putting greens, shuffleboard, darts, cornhole, giant Yahtzee, giant chess, pickleball and board games in the hotel gym. There are also two video game stations with Mario Kart in the auditorium.

“Let’s not overpromise and underdeliver, it’s not Dave & Busters, but there are some quirky, fun and silly things,” said Angela Harrington, owner of the hotel.

The Hotel Grinnell’s refurbished gymnasium space hosts games and socially distanced seating for students. Photo by Kaya Matsuura.

Earlier this semester, the Harris Center opened to give students living on campus an indoor space to spend time outside their dorm rooms while the winter weather made it impossible to spend time outside, and the Hotel Grinnell space is intended as a version of the same thing for students living off-campus.

“I saw what they set up in Harris, and my objective here was to outdo what was in Harris. And I have done that,” Harrington said.

The Hotel Grinnell is following the Harris Center’s example in terms of COVID-19 safety as well as types of activities made available.

“We know that there are a number of students in the Grinnell area not living on campus, and they’re not allowed to use campus spaces,” said Monica Chavez-Silva, Assistant Vice President for Community Enhancement at the College. “The idea was to provide some space for the off-campus students, and the hotel, because of its proximity, seemed like a great opportunity for that.”

Let’s not overpromise and underdeliver, it’s not Dave & Busters, but there are some quirky, fun and silly things. – Angela Harrington, owner of Hotel Grinnell

Grinnell College has been working to support local businesses throughout the pandemic. In the spring, the College ordered food from local restaurants to feed students who remained on campus meal plans. “It gave Dining [Services] a little bit of a break, and then it also helped those local businesses,” Chavez-Silva said. The College is also paying a fee to Hotel Grinnell for the use of the space.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster for the whole hospitality industry, and Hotel Grinnell is no exception. According to Harrington, she is down to five employees, from fifteen on March 1.

“With the exception of the storm that brought us business for two weeks during the derecho, we have been at almost no revenue since March,” she said.

Free coffee and soda is available to students spending time at the hotel this year, as well as $5 flatbreads and charcuterie boards. Photo by Kaya Matsuura.

Harrington estimates that 50-60% of her business is directly related to the College, such as hosting visiting academics and speakers, but 80-90% of her business is College-related if she includes indirect connections as well: “The family member that comes to visit a faculty member or the businessperson that calls on the College to sell it paper, or something,” Harrington said. “The economic engine that is Grinnell College is giant for this community.”

Safety precautions for students gathering in the Hotel Grinnell include mask requirements, frequent hand washing and limited capacity: 15 people maximum in the auditorium and the gym at a time, and 10 people in the Periodic Table and the lounge.

“Grinnellians and the College are trying to set an example of being responsible to do the right thing. We gotta get through this, even though it’s financially difficult,” Harrington said.

She also reported that COVID-19 safety is important to the few guests the hotel has had.

“We say, ‘Well why did you pick us?’ And they say, ‘Because your COVID measures are over the top’ or they say ‘because you look like you’re really doing a good job with COVID’ or ‘it just felt more safe to lay my head in the middle of your suite downtown than on the interstate,’” Harrington said.

Grinnellians and the College are trying to set an example of being responsible to do the right thing. We gotta get through this, even though it’s financially difficult. – Angela Harrington, owner of Hotel Grinnell

As of publication, only a few students have taken advantage of the Hotel Grinnell space. So, if you live off-campus, Harrington says, make a reservation and come down with your student ID to hang out. “I was really worried about it being sort of lame, but I think it’s better than staying home day after day,” Harrington said.

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