Located on the corner of Boylston and Exeter Streets, the Lenox Hotel had a front row seat to the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. Law enforcement officials evacuated the 214-room property shortly after the blasts and the entire area remained a crime scene for days after. “In restaurants across the street, you could see pocketbooks and drinks on the tables,” says Dan Donahue, vice president and managing director of the Lenox Hotel. “There were strollers in the middle of the street. The litter and the guardrails were still there. Then, there was the scene where the bombs went off and you could see the aftermath of that gore.”
On the 15th, when Donahue was allowed back into the property to retrieve the hotel’s security footage at the end of the day, he snuck into his office and waited out much of the commotion moving through the halls of the hotel. Near midnight, when Donahue felt like the coast was clear, he walked around the property to assess what needed to be done to reopen in the morning. The gravity of the situation didn’t sink in until he ran into the sharpshooters stationed in the presidential suite and the bomb-sniffing dogs crowding the hotel’s meeting space.
“That is how naïve I was,” Donahue says. The Tuesday after the marathon is usually a very busy day as the hotel shifts gears from hosting sports enthusiasts to corporate business executives. From an operations standpoint, it requires turning around guestrooms and meeting spaces quickly, meeting the heavy demand for breakfast and lunch, and fully staffing the front desk to ensure seamless check-outs and check-ins. “I started to think in hotel terms without really thinking about or understanding the long-term effects.”
The Lenox was closed down for eight days as the investigation kicked into gear. The hotel took to social media to keep followers informed and communicate with guests about the status of the property. Many guests relocated to other area hotels, including the Fairmont Copley Plaza, located just a few blocks away. While the Boston Police Department, ATF officials, and the FBI worked diligently to identify and track down the suspects, Donahue came up with an action plan of his own.
A limited number of hotel staff members were allowed through the Boylston Street barricade on Tuesday morning, and the Lenox team quickly began to put out food and beverages in the lobby for the officers. What began in the afternoon with some sandwiches and iced-coffee service, turned into a dinner buffet that fed approximately 400 tireless public servants. Over the next several days, the Lenox functioned as a de facto cafeteria for those involved with the investigation.
“We’re hospitality people. As a hotel, we’re just doing our job,” Donahue says. “But think about what the officials did in less than 72 hours. They found two guys in a sea of people. Their efforts and their unwavering commitment to making Boston safe again—that’s the story.”
The Lenox couldn’t have continued serving the hundreds of investigators and agents if it weren’t for the kindness and generosity of neighboring hotels and businesses, Donahue stresses. The Colonade, the Four Seasons, and the Fairmont all donated food to the Lenox in the week following the bombings. Paul Tormey, general manager and regional vice president at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, actually hand-delivered breakfast items after the Lenox ran out. “Paul was carrying cases of bacon on his shoulder, walking down the street, trying to get past the checkpoint so that we could feed the officers,” Donahue says. “These people are our competition, but they were calling and saying, ‘Hey, what can we do for you?’”
The Fairmont Copley Plaza, which hosted press and several high-profile runners for the marathon, was put on lockdown following the bombings but never had to suspend operations. The 383-room hotel, owned by FelCor Lodging Trust, did its part to entertain and assist guests during the shelter-in-place order by putting out board games in the lobby, keeping the restaurant open, and assisting with transportation arrangements.
For Tormey, who considers Donahue a friend, helping out the Lenox Hotel was a natural and necessary response. “If you work in the hotel business or the restaurant business, there’s an unwritten bond. You look after each other,” he says. “We compete, we challenge each other, we try to outdo each other from time to time, but when there are times of need, I think we rally together tremendously well.”
That same spirit of support is coming at the Lenox from all angles. Donahue says that since the property reopened, guests from all over New England have been coming to stay and share their well wishes. “Obviously, if you lose a week’s revenue, that stings,” he says. “But people are coming in knowing that these bartenders and the wait staff were without a paycheck for eight days. They are sitting down, getting a snack, having a few drinks, and leaving an extra 50 bucks. It’s not just Boston, but it’s people being at their best.”
Other independent hotels are also doing what they can to help the Lenox get back on its feet. Several hotels involved in Stash Rewards, a loyalty program for independent properties, including the Lenox, sent e-mail newsletters to their member lists encouraging guests to visit the Boston property. Hotel companies such as Affinia Hotels and Magnolia Hotels participated in the outreach effort.
“Affinia has always been a close ally of the Lenox Hotel in Boston and we certainly felt for what they were going through,” says Thomas Botts, executive vice president and chief customer officer at Denihan Hospitality Group, Affinia’s parent company. “In an industry that is generally so competitive, sometimes it feels good to support one another. It’s just the right thing to do.”
“Ironically, I think the hate that the bombers wanted to inflict caused the exact opposite. I think we’re going to be a better community and better citizens for it,” Donahue says. “You hope that in your career you’ll never have to experience something like this, but it’s renewed my passion for hospitality.”