Best Western's Bronco Inn builds expansion
Last updated 1/7/2021 at 10:02am
RITZVILLE – The Best Western Bronco Inn is expanding by more than half its current size.
The Bronco Inn, located at 105 W. Galbreath Way, opened in May of 2003 with 63 rooms. The expansion will bring the total of rooms to 97.
“The addition is 35 rooms, but we will use one to enlarge our laundry room, so we’ll have 97 rooms all together,” owner Amy Galbreath said last week.
The construction work is being done by A & A Construction and Development out of Spokane, who are half-owners of the hotel. Galbreath Land and Livestock is the other 50% owner.
Galbreath said A & A Construction owner William Lawson was the one who first approached Gary and Dale Galbreath about building the Bronco Inn at what the saw as an ideal location, at the convergence of I-90 and Highway 395.
“Seventeen years ago, it was the father (William) who was the construction manager, and now it is the son (Adrian). He has ownership, too,” Galbreath said. “So it’s a unique situation.”
Adrian Lawson said seven rooms on all three floors were framed in, as of last week.
“We’ll receive trusses in a couple weeks, and should be framing again in a couple weeks,” Lawson said. “It will look like one big building in about three weeks.”
Construction began in November.
“We wanted to start in September, but it was November 1 when they finally got all the paperwork signed,” Galbreath said. “The bank had to decide whether to do this or not.”
Asked about taking the risk of expanding in a time of reduced traveling due to Governor Inslee’s Stay Home orders, Galbreath replied, “It was very risky. But our numbers were such that it looked like it was a wise business decision. We had started the process, then COVID hit, so then it was a decision for the bank and us to go on with this.”
Wheatland Bank is the one handling the finances.
“I am happy Wheatland Bank is representing them,” Dolly Blankenship, manager of Wheatland Bank’s Ritzville branch said. “And excited for them about this big, new project.”
Galbreath said in a good year, the hotel has 30,000 guests. This year, the numbers have been closer to 18,000.
“We’ve been steady. The essential workers have been kind to us, and we’ve been good to them,” Manager Nichole Thiel said.
“We’ve got a great location,” Galbreath said. “We may be in the middle of nowhere, but we are on the way to everywhere.”
Galbreath said she felt fortunate they were able to remain open.
“In the Best Western chain, every hotel is owned independently, but we are still under their umbrella with rules and regulations and guidelines to follow,” Galbreath said. “During COVID, 250 Best Westerns shut down in the United States. The headquarters in Phoenix laid off 900 employees, so hospitality has been hit really hard.”
The chain, which is worldwide, has 2500 hotels in the U.S. alone.
Galbreath pointed out that destination hotels were hit the hardest.
“When you have a hotel at a main attraction like Disneyland, when that attraction shuts down, there’s nobody there at that hotel. We aren’t a destination hotel, so with our location at the intersection of Highway 395 and I-90, we didn’t get in that pinch. People coming off the freeway need a place to stay.”
Galbreath said the hotel was deemed an essential business.
“Truckers needed a place to stay, and the businessmen,” Galbreath said. “They were really glad we stayed open.”
Galbreath said March and April were “devastating” for the hotel.
“We closed the third floor – just shut it down,” Galbreath said. “The truckers we put in their own room, and didn’t rent it to anyone else. When they came back, it was their room and that made them feel cared for and safe. That was a good way to take care of our guests during that time, and they took care of us.”
The hotel has modified their usual full hot buffet to Grab and Go breakfasts, with everything pre-wrapped.
“We can’t serve breakfast in the room, so guests come to the dining room, where there’s a menu on the table, and they tell us what they want. We serve a breakfast quesadilla and an English muffin sandwich, so they have two hot protein items to choose from,” Galbreath said. “We put it on a tray for them to take back to their rooms, or in a bag for them to take on the road.”
The hotel employs an average of 25 people.
“We hire more in the summer when we need more housekeepers, and we will really need more now with more rooms,” Galbreath said.
Thiel was first employed in the laundry, before moving up to work the front desk part time. Jan. 6 is her first anniversary of being the general manager.
Thiel said the hotel has seen guests from Germany, France, Switzerland, Norway and India.
“They come from all over the world, and they stay here. We are on the way to everywhere, and if they need to pull over and sleep, we get them,” Galbreath said. “We are in the top 5% (of Best Western hotels) for cleanliness and customer service. We have received several Chairman’s awards. We work hard at cleanliness and friendliness and customer care. That’s why for a lot of people, we have become a destination as a go-between. I had a customer tell me, ‘If we have to travel and if we have to stay somewhere, we are getting to Ritzville.’ That means so much when you hear that from your guests.”
Another advantage of the hotel’s location is a full charge on an electric car will get a customer from Ritzville to Seattle. The hotel put in four charging stations six years ago.
“They get a lot of use,” Galbreath said. “We are in the right location. Tesla came to us and said ‘We want to go somewhere here.’”
Galbreath said Tesla installed a super-charger, which takes customers an average of 20 minutes to fill their cars.
“They plug in, go over to Starbucks and get a coffee and they’re ready to go,” Galbreath said. “It takes about 40 minutes if they have a totally empty charge. One time last summer I looked out the window and there were nine Teslas out there.”
Galbreath said the estimated timeline for the expansion to be finished is the end of June or early July.
“There are always delays in construction, but they are used to building in the winter,” Galbreath said. “The downtime in winter is when you build hotels. During the summer we are sold out, so you don’t want to lose those rooms. Half of the hotel is closed right now, with the electricity turned off.”
She said she was excited about the city of Ritzville recently accepting a proposal to annex in property close to the hotel, owned by Derek and Susan Schafer, for further business development.
“We’re hoping our timing is perfect,” Galbreath said. “But it is kind of scary, especially when they keep extending businesses being closed.”