Katie McKy

For many who work far from home, a standard hotel room can feel a bit like a bed in a big box. The standard in-room amenities, such as a microwave, a coffeemaker, and a small refrigerator, with a freezer door so slight that it doesn’t entirely manage to keep its contents frozen while managing to freeze some of the items in the refrigerated section, can push a hungry lodger out the door when they’d rather prepare a favorite meal in their room. Luckily, for those who come to the Chippewa Valley to work in stretches, two extended-stay hotels are ready to welcome and house them.

An extended stay hotel divvies up additional amenities both in the rooms and out. In lieu of a tiny refrigerator, there’s a full-sized fridge. In addition to a microwave, there’s also a stove with an oven. Pots, pans, dishes and kitchen utensils are also provided, as well as a sink, dish soap and scrubber for washing your dishes. Eating counters are also common, and some have dining tables. Instead of just a bedroom and bathroom, there’s typically a living area too, often with its own television, as well as a couch and chairs. Some living areas even have fireplaces. Desks are also common. In short, it’s a home away from home.

Outside your little home, the hominess continues. Since long-term travelers are clustered, extended stay hotels often foster community with social events, lubricated by drinks and snacks. Some even serve dinners, and the breakfasts are typically several notches above continental breakfasts, including steaming potatoes, eggs and various breakfast meats. If you prefer to grill your food, gas grills are common, and since you’ll likely need to wash your clothes if you’re working in town for a week or two, laundry services are also standard.

You won’t just be seeing your hotel-mates day after day. You’ll be seeing the staff day after day, and the staffs in extended-stay hotels focus on being friendly faces who recognize your face and remember your name, which can be just the ticket at the end of a long day away from home. Extended-stay hotels typically have pricing structures that reward your prolonged patronage. The longer you stay, the less you pay per night. It can be hard to be on the road for a week or weeks, but extended stay hotels ease your time away from home.

Staybridge Suites in Altoona

Built in 2016, Staybridge Suites at 1515 Bluestem Blvd. in Altoona, is a Larson Companies establishment and a burgeoning brand. There are 230-plus Staybridge Suites today, with another 190 in the pipeline. Cathy Leibke is the general manager of the Staybridge Suites in Altoona, and she’s worked for Larson Companies for 12 years, having managed the Holiday Inn Express in Chippewa Falls/Lake Hallie before moving to Staybridge Suites. Leibke has worked for a total of 16 years in hospitality, working her way from housekeeping and dishwashing to head honcho.

Leibke said, “I’ve done it all, and I think that is what has helped me. This industry has a lot of ‘on the job’ experiences that can’t be taught in class, however three of my management team attended Stout’s Hospitality & Tourism Program.”

Today, Leibke oversees 135 rooms, which are a mix of studio suites, and one- and two-bedroom suites. Demographically, her largest group is business travelers between the ages of 40-65. Her second largest group is men between 25 and 40 of varying professions. Their average length of stay is seven days, as opposed to the average length of stay of 1.5 nights at non-extended stay hotels. However, some stay for months or even a year. However, you don’t need to stay at for an extended period to stay at StayBridge or other extended-stay hotels.

“We welcome all different kinds of groups, individuals just traveling to or through the area, business men and women looking to stay a day a month or a year, or our county residents that are just looking to get away for a night.”

If your stay is extended, your cost is reduced.

“Rate does vary on length of stay and time of the year. However, the longer you stay, the cheaper the rate.”

Wow factor

Whatever their length of stay, Leibke’s guests are likely to be wowed. All the rooms are suites, doing your laundry is free, the fitness center is open 24 hours a day, and you can take the best part of home with you.

“We are pet friendly, so guests can travel with their four-legged babies,” Leibke said.

Breakfast abounds with choices, and you can also choose to enjoy the social hour, which dishes up light appetizers and free beer, wine and soda. The staff also works to wow.

“Best of all, we have the staff that delivers the down-home hospitality that our guests keep coming back for. I love the joy that we bring to our guests.”

The details can delight.

“From the pot holders to the silverware you’d use at home, it’s an apartment-style feel without the hassle.”

Wowed guests

The wow factor is working. In the cyber-world, where you can critique just about everything and everyone, from your local DMV to your Lucky Charms cereal purchased on Amazon, it’s common to have an unsatisfied customer or two. But Staybride Suites in Altoona garners high praise like “best hotel” and “loved our stay” at Google Reviews, where it averages nearly five stars. At booking.com, it averages 9.7 out of 10, and at tripadvisor, one guest wrote: “Stayed here for almost a month. The staff is great, very friendly, welcoming, and caring. The breakfasts were very nice, with oatmeal, egg dishes, breads, and the nice touch of a cheese selection. My colleagues liked the Wolfgang Puck coffee.”

Eric Barnes is another happy lodger. Barnes is a certified registered nurse anesthetist who works for Lake DuBay Anesthesia LLC, and he provides independent locum anesthesia services to hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers. For the past four years, he’s been providing anesthesia services for the Independent Surgery Center located on Commercial Bolevard in Lake Hallie, which specializes in same-day surgery procedures of the eyes. His work has had him staying at Staybridge Suites two days a week since it opened. Barnes enjoys the spacious suites, the separate living area with a fireplace, and two televisions, but notes that contentment comes from the small things.

“The rooms are quiet with solid doors that close slowly and don’t slam,” Barnes said. “The beds and linen are clean and comfortable.”

Of course, a contented stay can also come from big things, such as a great room with a fireplace and television. Prefer something cozier?

“There’s a separate, smaller sitting room off the great room, which also has couch, chairs, table, and TV and offers some privacy and a quieter environment,” Barnes said.

If you’ve had enough of sitting, there are other options.

“The exercise room is neat, clean, and offers modern exercise equipment and weights. It’s a very nice and comfortable outdoor yard area with chairs, tables, a fireplace and fire pit. There is also a covered area with gas grills free to use for all guests. They also have a nice indoor pool and spa area.”

It all adds up to cozy comfort.

“They offer a comfortable and home-like atmosphere as compared to non-extended stay hotels. This was an attractive option for me as I have traveled for many years. I can cook my own meals and the setting that is more like a condominium or apartment. Staybridge also offers a two-hour, free happy hour every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They provide light meals and hors d’oeuvres, salads, and drinks. The food provided has always been fresh and well prepared by the staff. They also continually work to monitor the flow of people and keep adequate food and drink available throughout the serving times. There is also a pantry near the front desk that provides a large selection of food and drink products separate from the happy hour,” Barnes said.

And the staff wants to be kept on their toes.

“I have found the staff to be very accommodating, organized, knowledgeable, and extremely personable,” Barnes said. “They work hard to make sure their guests are comfortable and happy with the accommodations. They also look for feedback, both positive and negative, from the guests to help them continually work to improve and provide the best overall experience for all their guests.”

Challenges

However, introducing a new concept to an area comes with complications. One problem is produced by the descriptor, “extended-stay hotel,” which can have some potential patrons thinking they can’t stay at Staybridge.

Leibke said, “One of the challenges we face are some think that we focus on extended stay and that we therefore don’t accept those reservations for folks coming in for one or two nights, which is far from the case; we gladly welcome all length of stay guests.”

Another problem is that when a brand is new, some guests might not book it because of a lack of familiarity.

Leibke said, “The other challenge we face is brand recognition. With the brand being fairly new to the market, some guests don’t understand what all we have to offer or that we are a recognized brand.”

GrandStay Residential Suites Hotel

GrandStay Residential Suites Hotel, at 5310 Prill Road in Eau Claire, also offers visitors to the valley those features that improve their stay, like separate living spaces so that it’s not just you and your bed. At less than half a mile from Florian Gardens, which hosts weddings, meetings and other events, its proximity and extended-stay features, such as fully equipped kitchens and a pantry, beckon the attendees. It’s also close to Oakwood Mall and golf courses, delivering entertainment options for those wanting to see more of Eau Claire than a hotel room. If you don’t want to drive to golf, there’s a putting green out back as well as a basketball court.

Like Staybridge Suites, it garners great online critiques, placing it third in the ranking of Eau Claire’s hotels and motels, and descriptors like “updated, clean, and comfortable” abound. However, GrandStay isn’t standing pat. Rather, it’s undergoing renovations to keep pace with the ever-posher and evermore diverse valley lodging. Extended-stay hotels are at the crux of that diversity, giving visitors to the Valley another option in a homier hotel.

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