CHAUTAUQUA - For the next nine weeks, those who walk through the gates of Chautauqua Institution will cross the paths of thousands. Area residents who visit the Institution's grounds walk the bricks down through Bestor Plaza to the 5,000-seat Amphitheater, where they catch popular entertainers or renowned lecturers.
Although local residents are on the grounds to see performers or speakers from throughout the country and world, they might just run into their neighbors while they're at it.
Each summer, Chautauqua's 100 year-round employees welcome the help of 1,900 seasonal workers, many of whom are Jamestown-area natives and residents. From restaurants to a golf club to a daily newspaper, Chautauqua offers employment opportunities at a variety of establishments.
Caitlin Strelioff, left, from Toronto, and Kristin Russo, of Jamestown, work at the front desk of the Athenaeum Hotel on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution. The Institution expands its staff from 100 to 2,000 employees each summer for its nine-week season. Employees include a mix of local residents and up-and-comers in their respective fields from throughout the country.
P-J photos by Scott Shelters
More than 200 people work for the Chautauqua Hotel Company, while roughly 50 others are employed by the Chautauquan Daily. Twenty-six Western New Yorkers drive onto the grounds to teach special studies courses to area residents and Chautauquans throughout the summer.
Jen Bentley, of Jamestown, spends her spring and fall studying at William & Mary. She works at Chautauqua during the summers, however. This year she's the office manager for the Daily, which prints roughly 3,000 copies six days a week.
"I decided it would be fun to spend a summer up here," said Bentley, who has been a lifeguard at the Institution in previous summers.
Bentley drives onto the grounds from Jamestown daily, but many of her fellow employees commute from elsewhere in the county or from across state lines.
"Of the year-round employees, very few live on the grounds," said George Murphy, the Institution's vice president/chief marketing officer. "Most of them live in Chautauqua County. I've learned it's really not just Westfield, Mayville, Jamestown; it goes up to Dunkirk. It's more broadly Chautauqua County and even Erie in some cases."
The year-round employees work in the administrative offices of the Colonnade building, at the main gate, in the bookstore, in the archives or elsewhere on the grounds.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Getting summer employees trained prior to the start of the Institution's season has been an issue in years past for students in particular, according to Murphy.
With a little help from a company called Digitell, training was done virtually prior to the season this year for employees of The Brickwalk Cafe, formerly known as The Refectory.
"We built The Brickwalk Cafe exactly the way it looks right now, put all the equipment into it and added a bunch of videos," Murphy said. "So if you're operating the turbo panini maker, you have a video from the manufacturer that shows you how you fire it up, prep it, cook the panini, how you clean it and cool it down at night."
The employees finish their online training sessions with a quiz.
"What you want to happen is, before they show up for day one, at least you know how to do your job," Murphy said. "If that works, we're going to invest in that technology for the main gate, for ticketing, for the hotel. It's a slick technology."
According to Matt Ewalt, director of communications/Chautauquan Daily editor, filling out a summer staff starts in the fall.
"Taking the Daily as an example, we're visiting journalism schools in October to at least begin to speak with some students and start building a reporter staff," he said. "We've been lucky enough to have students from California, from Kansas and really from all throughout the U.S."
With the help of just three year-round employees, each of whom has additional responsibilities in the off-season, the paper employs an editorial staff of 35 each summer. Some reporters are college students or recent graduates; others are retired college professors or longtime Chautauquans.
Although the Daily's writers typically come from outside of southwestern New York, office employees, such as Bentley, and paper carriers often live in the area.
"We have parents from off the grounds who know that a perfect summer job would be for their kids to sell papers here on the grounds," Ewalt said.
The Athenaeum Hotel works with hospitality schools and the Culinary Institute of America to fill out its summer staff.
"We look for people who are trying to gain experience in this industry," said Jason Toczydlowski, director of marketing and guest services for the Athenaeum. "We, for the first time, have almost every single person in the kitchen with a culinary degree. That's pretty impressive for a summer restaurant, and that says something about the educational experience that goes on here."
The hotel also employs youth and adults from throughout the county, and the children and grandchildren of longtime Chautauquans.
With weddings, conferences and festivals scheduled in the spring and fall, the three-season hotel employs several people year-round.
When it's closed during the winter, Toczydlowski, who lives in Bemus Point, and the other full-time employees deal with a challenge the summer help doesn't experience.
"You just need to have good snow tires to get down here," he said. "They plow on a very limited basis because we have sleigh rides, and we allow cross-country skiing on the streets."