Dec 31, 2022
BASOM — Though he needed a four-hour nap when it was over, Alabama Hotel General Manager Joe Bradt said if he had it to do over again, he would.
Despite being away from his home and family for a couple of days, from Dec. 23 to Christmas Day, while over 100 people who were stuck in the “once in a generation” snowstorm, freezing temperatures and high winds, Bradt did not second-guess opening the location at 1363 Lewiston Rd. to those who needed shelter.
“Wouldn’t even think twice,” the general manager told The Daily News this week, with the Alabama Hotel closed until it resumes business next Wednesday.
“One of the things I’m considering is taking some totes and filling them up with some supplies and blankets and things like that and putting them upstairs,” he said. “That way, if something like this were to happen again, we could be a little better prepared ourselves.”
By Christmas morning, things were clearing up outside the business on Route 63, the Alabama Hotel general manager said.
“We were able to leave here by about noon. I went home and laid down and visited with my family for a few minutes,” he recalled of Christmas Day. “I laid down and slept for about four hours. When I woke up, my family told me that there’s been a change in plans and that today is Christmas Eve and we’ll do Christmas on Monday (Dec. 26). They postponed the whole holiday and we had our Christmas on Monday.”
Bradt said he hadn’t seen his family since he left for work on the morning of the 23rd.
“I left to come here at 9 on Friday and I saw them at 12:30 on Sunday,” he recalled.
Bradt said there have been a number of calls since last weekend.
“The phone rang off the hook yesterday (Tuesday). I had dozens and dozens of emails, Facebook messages, just thanking us for the generosity. People truly believe that if we weren’t here and ... if our doors weren’t open and we weren’t able to help, they wouldn’t be alive,” Bradt said Wednesday.
The correspondence he and the Alabama Hotel have gotten from people has been overwhelming, he said.
“I assumed that once the people left on Christmas morning that we wouldn’t necessarily hear from them again,” Bradt said. “We’ve received a lot of messages from them. We love looking back. Bonnie’s (Alabama Hotel owner Bonnie Woodward) out of town right now. I can’t wait to sit down with her and go through some of the emails and messages together. I’ve never had to charge my phone so much in my life.”
Bradt estimated that three-quarters of the people who found shelter at the hotel were from Canada. There were people from Los Angeles, Calif., he said, looking at the sheets of paper. There were about 115 who stayed there on Friday, with 140 coming and going throughout the whole weekend.
“As long as people were comfortable, we weren’t turning anybody away. People would come in the door and we would let them know that it’s a tight space, but come on in and everybody came in,” he said.
The business sheltered people from about 11:30 a.m. Dec. 23 to about 12:30 p.m. Christmas Day, he recalled. Many of those who got shelter there wrote their names and where they were from on a piece of paper, which the hotel kept.
“Recovering hasn’t been too bad. We were well-stocked on food. We have the ability to get trucks in anytime now. It (the temporary closing) came at the right time, with us being closed for the next week, we have plenty of time to whip this place back into shape and get ready for the January business.”
AN UNEXPECTED CROWD
Bradt said the Alabama Hotel was not open on Dec. 23.
“We were scheduled to be open. I had left here after buttoning things up to be closed for the next week and a half,” he said. “I got stuck in the storm myself and had to turn around, and I opened up the back door. By the time I opened up the back door, people were knocking on the front door. We weren’t scheduled to be here at all.”
The hotel decided to close because of the weather that day and Bradt said the staff didn’t know that it would turn into a shelter an hour later.
“They (travelers) were stranded or they were on the Thruway and they got off the Thruway because they (authorities) closed the Thruway and they assumed that the Alabama Hotel was a hotel that had rooms,” Bradt said. “After the first 10 or 15 people knocking on the door, they just started flooding in. We just left the door unlocked at that point.”
The hotel let the people who came in do what they wanted to do to set up a space for themselves.
“They set up air mattresses on the floors. They slept along chairs. The dining room’s set up to accommodate 70 people for dinner. One hundred fifteen people crammed in here. They just kind of moved things around and made themselves as comfortable as they could. Whatever they needed to do to be more comfortable, they did it themselves.”
It was only himself and a couple of friends and neighbors at the hotel, Bradt said.
“Craig Alexander from Alabama Holley Farms right across the street. He was back and forth with food all weekend. They were a big help in supplying food and stuff over the course of those two days. They brought over quite a bit of roast beef ... and things like that,” Bradt said. “One of our regular patrons, Brian Kotarski — he was here and he was by my side for the whole 48 hours helping me out. He’s a local guy who’s always in here. He’s not a cook, he doesn’t work here. He would watch the bar area, because we didn’t serve alcohol. He would watch the bar area so I could be in the kitchen cooking. He would serve people soda and water and things like that
“The Genesee SnoPackers brought out their grooming machine that they usually use on the snowmobile trails and they were going up and down the roads ... The sheriff’s department and the state police, they were basically grooming the roads so those guys could get down those roads so they could get to those vehicles and rescue those people and bring them here.”
There were neighbors who brought blankets and air mattresses and diapers for babies and things like that, he said.
During that weekend, Bradt said, there were a couple of people who left the hotel on Christmas Eve, against the better judgement of most of those who were there.
“Hopefully they made out alright. The majority of the people who came here on Friday were still here on Sunday,” he said.
As far as Bradt knows, this was the first time the Alabama Hotel found itself in this situation.
CHECK-IN FROM FIRST RESPONDERS
It was 9:13 a.m. Dec. 24 when Alexander firefighters Nate Fix and Tony Johnston, on the road in a Genesee SnoPackers Snowmobile Club, Inc. Tucker Sno-Cat, leading a convoy of first responders, got to the Alabama Hotel. Fix is also a Genesee County Emergency Services dispatcher and is also vice president of the SnoPackers.
“We were told by the sheriff’s office sergeant at that time that we were the first emergency service personnel that got that far north,” Fix said. “Drew Klotzbach with Allegany Services had actually met us on Route 77 with his loader. He met him right in the area of his business ... He was clearing Route 77 and trying to help with whatever means he had.” -
Fix said he was the first first responder to walk into the Alabama Hotel.
“I saw how many people were there. Joe (Bradt) came right up to me. When I came in the door, I asked if everybody was OK,” Fix said. “I asked, ‘Does anybody have any medical conditions?’ Joe came up to me and said, ‘I fed everybody. Everybody’s fine right now. He offered to feed us.”
Fix said they didn’t have time to eat because there was more road to clear. Later on Dec. 24, when there was an opportunity, Fix said he posted something on the SnoPackers Facebook page to recognize Bradt and the Alabama Hotel for sheltering the people.
“I thought — this dude (Bradt) needs to be recognized, because he didn’t have to do that,” Fix told The Daily News.