Helena Leschuk greets hotel guests with warmth

BRATTLEBORO — By 7 a.m. a slim 32-year-old Helena Leschuk with blonde hair, green-eyes and an easy manner, arrives at The Latchis Hotel to begin her eight hours of work at the front desk. For just under two years, Helena has been the senior concierge checking hotel guests out who have stayed in the hotel the night before or checking in early arrivals in the afternoon. What that means is that she welcomes roughly 10,000 hotel guests each year — which means 6,000 rooms — to the thirty-room Latchis Hotel and to Brattleboro, and those guests come from all over the world.

The morning before I interviewed her, she had checked out a Swiss family. She remembers well a Moroccan gentleman from SIT who stayed in the hotel a couple years back and this year he's returning with his family. And then there's the Australian family. Jonathan Jensen, hotel manager, told me, in order of the most to the least visitors to the hotel, people also come from New York State and the city, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Many, many people come from much further afield. Jonathan Jensen, hotel manager, told me The Latchis Hotel is named in three European- based travel guides, one of which mentions only The Latchis as a hotel to stay at in Vermont. And it's Helena who talks to most of these people with a smile in her voice as she books visitors in over the phone. "And I'm on a digital message board with other front desk agents in hotels around the world. A few days ago I corresponded with other front desk people in LA and Cambodia. We chat and compare notes. It's very cool."

Most recently the new hotel website, designed by Brattleboro-based Mondomedia, web designers "who are younger than ME," Helena said, has eased bookings over the web, a system Helena is conversant with. "I grew up in a digital world since I was twelve. I'm plugged in; the hotel is plugged in, largely thanks to Jonathan Jensen." One digital capability on the horizon is likely to be the ability for people looking to reserve a room to text Helena and the other front desk employees with their request. At the moment, guests in their rooms can place conference calls, watch Blue Ray or DVDs, use their Apple TV or listen to vintage records on updated record players.

At the same time, she also loves working in a historic 78-year-old hotel built, along with the four-screen movie theatre, as a memorial to Greek immigrant Demetrios Latchis by his four sons in 1938. "Guests are so interested to learn this hotel is, in a very real way, owned by the community through the twenty men and women who are on the Latchis Arts and Latchis Corporation boards. I love the fact I'm working with and for my neighbors and not for an anonymous hotel chain. "And when I tell hotel guests who owns the hotel, they say, `Wow, that's really cool.'

Helena told me, "I hope the Latchis continues for another 100 years. I feel so lucky to have landed here in what really is a deeply personal building. There is also a deep sense of creativity here. It's a meeting place around the arts and engenders of feeling of belonging. People who stay here don't want a cookie-cutter hotel; they want authenticity, a feeling of belonging, and they get it here."

Helen went on to speak about herself: "I'm a product of immigrants and my parents did everything they could to make sure I went to college. We're hard working; we dream and give of ourselves. I give and give to our guests and get so very much back. In many ways, my job is to bring our community to our guests. I feel so good, for example, sending our guests out to the restaurants in Brattleboro because they are all so personal, and I know many of the chefs, owners and waiters."

     Helena first came to Vermont in 2003 to attend Marlboro College, from which she graduated as a theater major in 2008. She grew up in North Branford, CT, the daughter of Wasyl Leschuk, a mail-carrier of Russian ancestry, and her mother Jane who is from a Russian and Czech background. Helena loved her family but never really felt at home in Branford and wanted to fit into a like-minded community. Marlboro College (and Professor Paul Nelson) filled that role for four years, and then she moved into Brattleboro and has lived here for the last nine years.

She took a few part-time jobs to pay the rent and then started working for Ken Flute at the Blue Moose Bistro on High Street. Helena is a people-person with a ready smile and an affable nature and found it easy to chat with regulars at The Blue Moose, like Senator Robert Gannett who, every Tuesday, came for lunch with friends. She also met Gail Nunziata, then Executive Director of The Latchis, at The Blue Moose. Gail, seeing the people-person in Helena, knew she would be terrific with hotel guests and hired her part-time.

Of Helena, Jon Potter, Executive Director of the Latchis, told me, "She is the perfect ambassador for the Latchis and the town. She is one of the most genuine, authentic people I know." Jonathan Jensen said that "Helena is complex, attentive, highly intelligent and completely dedicated to her guests. Having Helena as our lead person guarantees that our guest's first interaction in Brattleboro and our hotel will be warm, pleasant and professional. And Helena loves Brattleboro: "Introducing our town to our guests is the highlight of my job. I think the town has a sweet attitude with a desire to be different and welcoming and independent."


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