Dan Bolognani Interview
This is file #28, cycle 3. T5oday’s date is March 27, 2018. This is Jean McMIllen. I am interviewing Dan Bolognani who is going to talk about his time at the Interlaken Inn when he was Director of Marketing and Sales. First we’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
DB:My name is Dan Bolognani. I live in Lakeville, Ct.
DB:October 1, 1959
JM: Your birth place?
DB:North Adams, Massachusetts
JM:Your parents’ names?
DB:James and Elizabeth Whitney Bolognani
JM:You have a lot of siblings!
DB:I do. I am one of 11 children.
JM:Can you name them all?
DB:Sue, Nancy, Anna, Lee Cindy, John, Dan, Ted, Tim, Judy and Heidi
JM:Your parents were in the hospitality trade, were they not?
DB: They were. They were innkeepers and business in southern Vermont where I was born and raised. I was born just over the border in North Adams as it was the closest hospital to our hometown.
JM:You worked in a variety of places before you came to the Interlaken.
JM:You worked at the Harrison conference Center in Southbury, Ct. You worked at Arrowwood in Westchester County, New York. Then you came to the Interlaken.
JM:What year did you come to the Interlaken?
DB:I had a little hiatus between places where I moved back to Vermont. I became an innkeeper in the family business for about 5 or 6 years. I then moved back into the area here. I had a brief stint with the Berkshire School, running Environmental Services for that fine entity. I had a chance meeting with
the General Manager of the Interlaken, Kevin Bouquet who is a good friend for many years past while I was working at Berkshire School. He invited me to rejoin the inn: that was in 1997.
JM:Had you worked with Kevin before?
DB:Yes at both the Harrison in Southbury and at Arrowwood just outside of White Plains, New York.
JM:Kevin was the General Manager before or after Maggie and Bob Slagel?
DB:After Bob & Maggie had hired Kevin as the Operations Manager at the Interlaken. When bob & Maggie moved on, Kevin assumed the role of General Manager there.
JM:Who owns the Interlaken?
DB:That is the family the Riesman family, but the primary individual is Paul Riesman but I understand that there is a brother Steven and perhaps one or two other people have some small equity positions with the Interlaken. Paul is really the owner.
JM:Are they from New Jersey?
JM:Did they buy it from the Peters family?
DB:That is right.
JM:In reading an article about the Interlaken, there was a Bed and Breakfast on the spot in 1760 run by the Shaw family.
DB:Yeah there is quite a history there. There was a good hospitality trade back then. The Iron Industry that was here, with people coming and going, and the railroad car wheels were shipped overland to Poughkeepsie to the Hudson River. I suspect a lot of the transient business would require a lot of hospitality, places to stay and get a hot meal, and a drink or two.
JM:Who actually hired you?
DB:Kevin did who was General Manager at the time.
JM:What were you hired for?
DB:Initially I was hired to be Operations Manager. In Operations at the Interlaken means front office, the front desk, the reservations department, housekeeping department, and the maintenance department to take care of the physical structure and the grounds. Food and Beverage, we have a dining room and a banquet area was separate. That had its own set of management.
JM:If you came in 1997 then the inn looked then as it does now?
DB:It does. It is a modern building with the townhouses in the back. The only original building is Sunnyside House, the big Victorian house at the back of the property, which was built in 1892. The English Tudor house Countryside was built about 50 years later. It was the Peters’ Residence at one time. Later Nick Beni Sr. lived there when he was General Manager of the inn. It was converted to guest rooms in 1985. The townhouses were built in 1974. The inn when I came in 1997 is as you see it now.
The people I worked with there were Kevin as General Manager, and Mona Staff Hoffman was Director of Sales and Marketing at that time. When Mona left Gina Bousquet, wife of Keith, Kevin’s brother, took over and then Winston Foote replaced he, all within 2-3 years. I replaced Winston.
JM:You became marketing and sales.
DB:That’s right. Eventually as people had come and gone and positions shifted there, I gravitated toward what I knew best which was the sales & marketing end. In particular I enjoyed the technology. The rise of the digital age, internet marketing and on-line advertising, meant a great deal for me.
JM:Originally it was marketing through telephone and letters.
DB:Yeah and printed brochures, newspaper advertising and magazine advertising and limited radio. That has really shifted in the past 2 decades.
JM:You still live the digital part of it?
DB:I do like it. I enjoy the heck out of it, particularly the analytic al part and looking at how consumers search and how they make buying choices. I like statistics.
JM:Do you feel that with the digital age you have a wider market?
DB:It levels the playing field. The larger, more established hotels back in the paper age had a serious advantage in that they could afford much more advertising. They had more advertising power. They could buy radio and television time and newspaper ads as well as direct mail: all of which were very expensive. It put a small property like the Interlaken at a serious disadvantage. The dawn of the digital age leveled the playing field much more. It is much more tactical and on-line advertising if done right, is much more cost efficient. It helped us reach new market in a much more efficient way. Markets changed for the Interlaken over time. The rise and fall of competing lodging properties and competing restaurants all shift the landscape: the changes of businesses located near-by, the change in leisure travel patterns and niche marketing such as wedding, and anniversary parties all this the inn was able to take advantage of over time. The landscape shifted and we had to shift with it or risk losing our market share.
JM;When did the resort focus come in for the Interlaken Inn?
DB:I think the resort focus has been there for many decades, prior to my joining the team there. In looking back at some of the anecdotal evidence of when the Interlaken was “The” summer resort for the
New Yorker to come and get out in the country, we still enjoy having some of our summer patrons who come and stay with us for a weeks and months on end. So the resort flavor for the Interlaken has persisted to my understanding for many decades, close to 100 years. We try to maintain that same flavor with tennis, swimming pool and the lakefront with the canoes to create a generally leisurely feel to the property, plus nice gardens and lawns, places to sit and relax outdoors. We have a restaurant which is open more or less 7 days a week, breakfast, lunch and dinner. You could come and stay at the inn and enjoy the property without ever having to leave until you left to go home. We provide the over-all resort experience.
JM:Other enhancements like the spa, Pilates and other things have been added over time.
DB:it was a shift in consumer demand to certain resort amenities that caused us to continue to add amenities as consumer demand shifted. Early in the 1980’s when Paul Riesman purchased the property from the Peters family and had hired Bob and Maggie Slagel to take the role as the resident property managers, they came with a good institutional understanding of the conference and meeting market. It was at that point that they helped to shift the Interlaken to accommodate these markets as well: corporate meetings, meetings for local companies, corporate outings and this sort of thing. They adapted the property to take advantage of that market as well with meeting rooms, conference services, and banquet buffets.
JM:When did you leave the Interlaken?
DB:I left in 2015 and it was sad as I had been there for 18 years and had seen the property evolve, it was a constant evolution. I had a lot of good friends there and a lot of good memories. It is a fine place to work at and be associated with. I took great pride in the fact that I was part of the management team. I really enjoyed my tenure there.
The opportunity arose to join a new program that was here in the region was seeking an executive director. As I was super familiar with their mission and goals and felt it would be most compatible with my life at that point, I took the position. It was a hard decision to leave the Interlaken, but it was a decision I had to make.
JM:Was it good for you?
JM:You have been on a lot of boards and done a lot of volunteering so I am going to ask about that. You were on the board of EXTRAS.
DB: EXTRAS was a relatively new program in the late 1980s and early 1090s. I joined the board there in 1992. My children were at Salisbury Central School. I was a father looking to get my job done, and take care of my children and the EXTRAS program was ideal with the after school setting right there at the school. I was first a patron of the program. Then I was invited to join the board of EXTRAS. I
enjoyed looking at the inside machinery of how that nonprofit worked. I became the treasurer, then the vice chair, and finally the chairman of EXTRAS. I enjoyed how much that program meant to the parents of school aged children. I saw an opportunity to lend my expertise to helping that program evolve and become more relevant to the townspeople. There were some excellent board members had come and gone and I believe still continue to serve.
JM:Who was on the board when you joined?
DB:At that point Patricia Williams, who is our Town Clerk, (See Tape # 39, Patty Williams), Rev. Dick Tabor (See tape #64 Rev. Dick Tabor) of the Congregational Church, Eileen Lee and others. My recollection is that they were an incredible group of people who were there solely for the benefit of the children in town and to make that program the best it could possibly be.
JM: I left Salisbury Central in 1991 and it had begun as a place to do homework for latch-key kids and morphed into the program it is now. (See tape # 61, Louis Bucceri). AT the beginning it was to keep the kids safe rather than going home to an empty house. What was the focus of the board, or was it just fund raising?
DB:We sought to make the program as relevant to the parents as possible. We had tinkered with a before school program at that point. Ultimately we had to abandon that. We then focused on the afternoon component. We wanted to keep the program affordable for parents, so part of it was fund raising doing events as bake sales, raffles and anything we could think of to raise a few dollars to help parents offset their tuition costs. We wanted that program accessible to everybody regardless of their ability to pay.
JM:Do you remember what the tuition cost then?
DB:I don’t remember, but it was modest. When you have the opportunity to join the board of a local civic organization such as EXTRAS, you get to see the inner workings of the town and the townspeople. It reveals the generosity of the people of Salisbury. It is amazing. Unless you have the opportunity to look at it from the other side to see that generosity and much of it is anonymous. There are many people who chose not to be named. They are doing it out of their goodness of their heart. Serving on a board really was enlightening and uplifting.
JM:With the various organizations and people I have interviewed for the oral History Project it is amazing what this town gives for anything that they feel is needed. It is a community that wants to nurture from cradle to grave.
DB:It is uplifting!
JM:You are now the town representative to the Tourist Board of Connecticut.
DB:Yes. By state statute each town in Connecticut appoints a representative to the Regional Tourist Board. Right now there are three such boards in the state. It is a little convoluted. There used to be 15, then 11, 9, 7, 5, and now it is 3. The state is divided into thirds; each one having a tourism bureau. It does not make entirely too much sense. I am the Salisbury appointed representative to the Regional tourism Bureau. And have been the rep in excess of 20 years. Soon after joining the tourism board, I became vice chairman and then chairman within three years or so because of my connection with the Interlaken, my driving desire to see the best tourism marketing possible, using state funding. I have some very clear ideas about how a regional tourism bureau should operate. I guess the rest of the board recognized my drive to get that done and rapidly elected me chairman in which position I continue to serve. Temporarily the state had no funding for regional tourism. I hope it is a temporary situation due to budget constraints. I continue to serve and have an interest in the tourism industry. In my capacity now with the National Park Service, the National Heritage area program part of my mission is also to support and supplement the economic diversity in the region. Tourism is a big part of that, thus I have a continued interest.
JM:When did you join the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage and what do you do?
DB:This program came out of the Tri-Corner History Council of which the Salisbury Association Historical Society was within. There was a group who was very interested and worked diligently to uncover and share our early iron industry history. Many of those people would be familiar to people who live in the area and listen to this recording. They had a great interest in early industry, particularly iron, and quickly realized that the story can’t be told simply within the confines of the town of Salisbury. They needed to look beyond to the surrounding towns, even to the surrounding states as we adjoin New York State and Massachusetts. These all had critical pieces of the bigger story of iron. The Tri-Corner History council sough a solution for how can a wider net be cast to tell this story. How can we find additional resources? Some of the council members had hear of the National Heritage areas was the program that was administered by the National Park Service. They understood that the national Heritage area had the ability to cast a wider net for history, culture, natural resources so they approached Congress woman Nancy Johnson to see if she might be able to have the Park Service study the region. That was in the year 2000.
Nancy, to her credit, moved very quickly on that. The Park Service began studying the region in 2001. It took them roughly one to one and a half years of interviewing people here in the area, talking to municipal leaders, history people and educators and institutions and basically asking the question” Is there a heritage of national significance here in the region?” The answer was yes there is. The early industries really did power early America. We had a significant role in that, not only the early industry, but early village beautification, land conservation measures were identified here. Some of the earliest migration of cultural people and happenings came to the region. There was a great deal of money that was being pumped in during the years of “the Gilded Age” when all the Berkshire Cottages were being built. There was support for a Heritage Area and there was a management agency willing to take on the role of administration locally. The Park service passed their conclusions along to the Department of the
Interior to create a bill to designate us as a National Heritage Area in 2004. It failed in Congress by lack of action. It failed again in 2005. Finally in 2006 the study was taken seriously. Congress took action and the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area was born.
JM:What are the boundaries?
DB:It comprises 29 towns in the Housatonic River Watershed from Kent, Connecticut to Dalton, Pittsfield, and Lanesboro, Massachusetts. It is roughly 955 square miles.
JM:It is a big area.
DB;It is. The early incorporators of the National Heritage Area, Ron Jones principally,(See file #22, cycle 2, Ron D. Jones), and Ed Kirby (See tape #07A/B Edward Kirby), Tom Schactmann from here; from Gt. Barrington were Paul Ivory and Rachel Fletcher and a handful of others who were very dedicated to getting the Heritage Area established and operating. I joined the board in 2002 when it was still being studied and immediately served as Treasurer. My keen interest in the regional impact seemed a potential for this organization. Then I was elected as vice chair under Ron Jones excellent tutelage. At the point then the bill had passed Congress, we were advised by the National Park Service to appoint an Executive Director. I was appointed in an interim basis so agreed to leave the board and become the Executive Director as Interim. I relish the opportunity to be able to tinker and help the program chart a future course to help the board envision all that that organization could be for the region. It is invigorating and uplifting.
JM:Thank you so very much. Is there anything you would like to add before we close/
DB:No, but thank you so much for preserving this for posterity. I appreciate the opportunity.
JM:Thank you again.