Salem's Grand Hotel and the Salem Convention Center eliminated more than 100 jobs as the economic crush of the global pandemic continues hitting Salem.(Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

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Salem’s hospitality industry was jolted anew Thursday with word that the owner of  the Grand Hotel and operator of the Salem Convention Center was laying off 227 employees in Salem and its other Willamette Valley operations.

VIP’S Industries Inc. advised the state by letter dated Wednesday, April 8, that the Salem-based company was laying off 72 employees who worked at the convention center and 26 from the Grand Hotel in Salem. It also listed 40 workers at Bentley’s Grill, one of Salem’s upscale restaurants that operated inside the hotel until it closed March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The hotel, the grand queen of lodging in Salem, was still operating on Thursday and taking reservations, according to a front desk worker.

Steve Johnson, president of VIP'S Industries Inc., and Bob Smith, chair of the company’s board of directors, referred questions to Mike Herron, the company’s corporate counsel.

“We have no comment to offer at this time,” Herron said in an email.

Besides the downtown Salem operations, the company also said it was laying off 61 employees at its Phoenix Inn Suites operations on Southeast Commercial Street and in Albany, Eugene and Lake Oswego. The company also said it was laying off 28 employees at the Grand Hotel at Bridgeport Plaza, the shopping center off Interstate 5 in Tigard.

“All affected employees have been notified their separation from employment is permanent as of March 27, 2020,” said the notice to the state.

An employee answering the phone at the Salem Phoenix Inn said the hotel was closed and had no date for reopening.

The convention center was scheduled to host events ranging from a 15-person wedding ceremony to a 650-person happy hour fundraiser for Family Building Blocks in March before Gov. Kate Brown issued an order banning nearly all public events and large gatherings.

A weekly meeting of the Salem Rotary Club, a 100-year-old chapter of the international service organization, draws about 75 people to the convention center’s first floor. It’s among the many regular gatherings now indefinitely on hold.

The center’s website, normally full with spring offerings, listed no events past March 31.

Large events planned for the spring, like the Cinco de Micro Brewfest, have been postponed or rescheduled.

This was the first major layoff notice to the state from a Salem company since COVID-19 hit the state and Brown ordered restaurants to stop inside dining, discouraged travel, and imposed social distancing standards statewide.

VIP’S notified mayors in the cities in which it operates of its move.

Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said the Salem company is like every other business that has been hit hard by the coronavirus. He expects the convention center will be able to bounce back after the COVID-19 closures are over.

“The hospitality industry has just been hit unbelievably hard by the various orders that have come down. So it’s not alone, but it’s a focal part of our hospitality industry here in Salem. But as each of the industries come back I expect it will also come back in full force,” Bennett said.

The hotel opened its doors in 1870 as Chemeketa House, billed as the finest hotel in Oregon. By 1911, it had been renamed the Marion Hotel and provided luxurious accommodation, catering to business travelers with a telegraph in each room. 

“During its 101-year history, the Chemeketa/Marion was the unofficial center for state and local government ‘back room’ politics,” reads a note in the Salem Public Library’s historic Ben Maxwell photograph collection. “Its ornate basement lounge was the watering hole of choice for legislators, lobbyists and government and business officials.”

The building had survived several previous fires, but burned to the ground on Nov. 12, 1971, leaving only a charred skeleton on the corner of Commercial and Ferry. A new hotel, built by Red Lion, took its place.

In 2005, that building was demolished and the newly-constructed The Grand Hotel opened its doors as the flagship property for Salem-based VIP’s Industries Inc. The company was founded  in 1968 and opened its first hotel in 1990, in Salem, according to its website.

Bentley’s Grill in downtown Salem, now closed because of the pandemic. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The state was notified on Wednesday, April 8, that 72 employees at the Salem Convention Center have lost their jobs. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Jake Thomas: [email protected]