by Diana Bulls
The Hotel Burgess, a 100-year-old Reedley landmark located on the corner of 11th and G streets, reopened its doors last July. The Hotel Burgess has been operating for nearly all of those 100 years—closed only for about three years before being purchased by Jose and Wendy Rivera. The Riveras are an enterprising young couple with lots of spunk and determination. I met recently with one of the new hoteliers, Wendy, to talk about the hotel and their future plans.
Most of you know the history – in 1889, Harry Winnes arrived in Reedley ready to make a name for himself. He was a carpenter by trade, but that didn’t stop him from venturing out in several new business directions. He built a skating rink in Reedley, a funeral home in Parlier and was one of the founding contributors to the First National Bank. He also ran a furniture and mercantile store. By 1900 his real estate holdings in Reedley included two corners on 11th & G streets, as well as several other businesses. Then in 1918, he opened the doors to a two-story modern, brick hotel and called it the Hotel Winnes. The name was changed in the mid-1970s to the Hotel Burgess by then hotel owner, Myrtle Burgess. The Riveras are only the fourth owners since Winnes.
KRL: What led you to be interested in the hotel business?
Wendy: As a couple, we’re not afraid of taking risks. We wanted something different and to diversify our businesses and we’re also not afraid of spending money and doing the hard work.
KRL: Did you have any prior experience?
Wendy: I had 16 years of retail, hospitality and customer service experience, so I felt pretty comfortable in that area. Jose did all the research on how to run and manage a hotel, so between the two of us, we had an idea of what would be expected going into the business.
KRL: Why this particular hotel, and how did you hear about it?
Wendy: Jose said “Hey, there’s a building I want us to look at.” I said, “Just look, not buy!” But the truth is, I fell in love as soon as I saw it and said, ‘just make it happen!’ It was the historic appeal, the fact it had been here for a long time. I just fell in love.
KRL: How long did it take you to decide to buy The Burgess?
Wendy: It was an instantaneous decision. We made an offer the next day and escrow closed in ten days! That was in April 2017 and we opened July 14, 2017.
The Riveras faced some challenges when they began renovations. The hotel had been stripped of most everything. Only the lobby light fixture remained, along with the original steam radiators, one bathtub and a few sinks. The building structure was intact, so there was little structural work that had to be done. The building was converted to modern heating and cooling, so the old radiator system is no longer being used, although the radiators remain in each room. All of the woodwork was refinished. Wendy has done the interior decorating herself in sort of European cottage-style. Today, the Burgess is modern and comfortable, and very, very welcoming to guests.
And speaking of guests, the Riveras have nothing but guest comfort in mind. Each of the 15 rooms has its own bathroom, heating, air conditioning and a ceiling fan. Other amenities include flat screen televisions with free Netflix and basic cable, and free WiFi connections. Guests are treated to a complimentary breakfast at Main Street Cafe, while coffee, tea and fresh fruit are provided in the lobby throughout the day.
Currently the Riveras are advertising online and by word of mouth. In fact, Wendy says that most of their bookings come from online. Since Reedley is located to near several national parks, it’s no surprise that many of the hotel guests are vacationers from abroad as well as throughout the U.S. Then there are those guests here for business or special events like college basketball games or weddings. The day I was visiting, there were several guests from South Korea, including a documentary film maker. Speaking of Korea, the hotel has the distinction of serving two distinguished Korean guests: Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea and Ahn Chang-Ho and independence activist and purported author of the South Korean national anthem. One of the hotel rooms is, in fact, called the Presidential Suite in honor of Rhee.
Future plans for the Riveras include renting out the downstairs corner business space and to continue to upgrade the hotel. A project that will keep them busy, along with raising their two boys, 11-year-old Landon and 4-month-old Arthur.
The Riveras are happy to be a part of Reedley and what they feel is a united community, and they hope to keep the hotel doors open for another 100 years!
The hotel website is hotelburgessreedley.com and they can also be found under Hotel Burgess on FaceBook. When calling the hotel to make your room reservation, be sure to ask about any specials or upgrades.