Reopening underway

  • Visitors flocked to local trails and attractions, including Dry Falls, over the weekend following a relaxing of regulations related to COVID-19.
    Visitors flocked to local trails and attractions, including Dry Falls, over the weekend following a relaxing of regulations related to COVID-19.

As businesses in Highlands begin to reopen under phase one of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to jumpstart the economy, one major employer is already seeing strong response from the public.

Old Edwards Hospitality Group reopened Old Edwards Inn on Friday, and within 24 hours of taking the first reservation requests for nights at the inn started pouring in.

“The guests we had over the weekend were just incredible and they were very understanding of our current situation,” Old Edwards Hospitality Group president and managing director Richard Delaney said. “They were thankful that we were open and, even though some of our amenities are not available right now, the comments we received were all positive.”

Due to current state regulations, the spa at Old Edwards is closed, as are the pools and the restaurants for dine-in service. Madison’s is open for room service and Four65 Woodfire Bistro is open for take out. 

“Over the past weekend we got creative and did some fun things for the guests,” Delaney said. “We offered a few hikes, which we could safely put on with increased social distancing outdoors, and we offered yoga by the pool, and things like that. It was unique and the guests appeared to really enjoy it.”

Old Edwards Hospitality Group is operating at 20 percent capacity currently. Delaney noted that the plan is to gradually increase the number of guests over the next several weeks under the guidelines set forth by the state.

Even with the limited capacity in place, Old Edwards staff took added precautions such as wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance from guests. All employees and guests had their temperatures checked upon arrival.

“It’s odd to pull up to Old Edwards Inn and be greeted by a man wearing a mask who looks a little bit like Darth Vader,” Delaney said. “So we decided to have some fun with that too, and we made lanyards with large pictures of each employee’s smiling face for them to wear around their neck.”

Old Edwards Hospitality group has brought back approximately 40 percent of its employees thus far with plans to bring back additional staff as the reopening process progresses. During the nearly two-month closure caused by COVID-19 coronavirus, Delaney noted that staff members were paid in full.

“If one good thing came out of the whole situation, it’s that we had two months to do an incredible deep cleaning of all our facilities and complete several maintenance projects,” Delaney said. “Our priority is always the health and safety of our staff and our guests and right now our properties are absolutely spic and span.”

If the first weekend of being back up and running is any indication, Delaney said he expects Old Edwards Hospitality Group to be in for a big summer. 

“I am more than optimistic, I think it’s going to be a great summer season for us and for Highlands,” Delaney said. “There is a pent up demand for hospitality because people want to travel. They aren’t going on cruises right now, and a lot of folks aren’t comfortable travelling internationally, so I think people are going to be taking their holiday to a place they can drive to and still feel like they are getting away from home.”

While the news thus far in the reopening process has been positive, Delaney did note that one significant area of Old Edwards Hospitality Group’s business is still uncertain.

“Based on the state’s current guidelines for group gatherings being 10 people or less, we don’t expect to be doing any weddings or major events in the near future,” Delaney said. “It’s impossible to accommodate a wedding for 250, if the rules say the gathering limit is 10 people.”

The gathering limit may be raised in subsequent phases of Cooper’s statewide reopening plan, but dates for when those phases may begin have not been announced.

“We are hoping that phase two will begin around May 22, before the Memorial Day weekend holiday, so that restaurants can reopen at a limited capacity,” Delaney said. “There are a lot of unknowns still, but I’m expecting a busy summer as more and more places are allowed to operate.”