My quarantine routine includes two bike rides a day–at minimum–with my daughter. Invariably one of those daily routes takes us down Sturdivant Avenue in Atlantic Beach where we pass a handful of shuttered businesses before my daughter, realizing where we are, begins pointing out the “aliens riding the unicorn” and asking, “Where are my dancing shoes?”
OK, some context: she’s two. And she very much misses the Hotel Palms. Greg Schwartzenberger and the rest of the team at AB’s super hip boutique hotel have endeared themselves to the community east of the Intracoastal, providing an essential gathering place for a Beaches-based population in desperate need of some culturally interesting happenings. Between providing a space for Show Pigeon coffee’s weekend service to bringing in world-renowned artists to use the walls of the hotel as a canvass (Ozzie Wright’s “Believe in Aliens and Unicorns” is one of at least a half dozen installed in the last few years) and hosting local, as well as nationally touring bands, the Hotel Palms has become a cultural institution, of sorts–dancing shoes encouraged.
So, when I say that my daughter misses Hotel Palms, one can assume that a great many folks are missing the Hotel Palms.
We caught up with the ever-sociable Schwartzenberger to find out how the hotel is managing with its rooms and courtyard off-limits to all but essential workers, and how he and his team are staying connected to the community they’ve cultivated.
You’re a particularly social animal. How is isolation treating you? How are you staying sane?
The majority of my social life, outside of dates with my wife, all happens at the hotel. So what I really miss in that regard is welcoming familiar faces and meeting new ones. I miss curating evenings for the community to come experience. I miss face-to-face conversations with my friends and with complete strangers. I have a habit of staying in touch with people, so if anything, I’ve upped the frequency here in terms of phone calls and text messages. And in some respects, I’m just as busy–in different ways, though. I love privacy just as much as socializing, so being tucked away with my family has been pretty amazing.
Through events and your weekend coffee service, The Hotel Palms has really cultivated a sense of community. Despite restrictions on gatherings, it seems like you’ve made an effort to continue engaging with that community. Can you talk about some of the cool things y’all have been doing to stay connected and support others?
I am a big believer in momentum. So the attitude here has been to continue engaging with our online community, working on new creative content, and finding ways for people to stay engaged with our culture and our brand without actually being on the property. We partnered with Sandro [Young] of Dusty Nomad on a podcast featuring locals and business owners. It’s been a casual, conversational venture that has been well received. The team and I are working every day on creative ideas and social media campaigns. We have some things ready to share once the stay at home order is relaxed that highlights some processes that are more relevant now than ever. Jamie [Rice] has continued to stay ahead of the curve with Show Pigeon and has developed a great curbside coffee pick-up concept to keep consistency with her service.
We basically took the attitude that we have to keep moving forward, innovating, and improving every day. Whatever we can do within the guidelines and circumstances.
And you’ve also opened up your doors to people on the frontlines of fighting this pandemic locally, right?
We have stayed open for essential travelers. This definition is pretty broad, so it has felt good to be able to offer a modified type of hospitality to people who need it.
Have you seen or heard anything from people that’s shown you, as bad as this is, there are some positives to take away from it?
I’m a very positive and optimistic person, so I see silver linings everywhere. We are living through a transformational time in history that will give us lessons for generations to come. Compartmentalizing my work and separating that focus from the havoc that this illness is causing on people’s lives has been one of the toughest things to do. My perspective has been altered and an emphasis on basics and fundamentals is really feeling good. My best friend manages a prestigious assisted living community and has the overwhelming and draining task of keeping people’s parents alive. Talking with him day to day has really helped me to navigate my personal situation and define what leadership really means.
This interview originally appeared in Void Magazine’s May 2020 issue, The Check In. For more interviews with Jacksonville artists, musicians, and eternal optimists, click the mag the below.