Haydee Thompson walked through an unobtrusive grey door just inside the entrance to Krankie‘s coffee. Once inside, she climbed a square, wooden staircase that hugged the interior walls of an old chimney and entered The Wherehouse Art Hotel.
The quirky entrance seems fitting considering the building‘s storied past and the artist who has seen it through every phase and transition along the way, Haydee Thompson.
Fifteen years ago, Thompson moved to Winston-Salem to pursue an education at UNC School of the Arts. Back then, however, downtown wasn’t a place where people spent their time.
“There was no downtown,” said Thompson, “There weren’t any restaurants here. There was nothing here.“
After starting a band in her junior year she began touring and met a ragtag group of artists who were squatting in an abandoned meat packing facility at the corner of Patterson and 3rd. Thompson was taken by their shared spirit and joined them as they officially took ownership of the building and began to clean it up.
What was once an abandoned area of town began blossoming with the art, music, and culture created by the artists.
“This building was sort of the first responder to a dying downtown,” said Thompson. “We were the only ones offering cultural events. Back then it was really DIY culture.”
The collective of people who had originally hung out in the building eventually grew up and followed paths that led many of them to lives, families and locations all over the country. Thompson, however, stayed behind. She felt that the culture those artists left behind needed to be preserved in some way and so the idea for starting an art hotel was born.
“I think of this place as a living museum of the community energy that spawned out of here,” said Thompson.“
Richard Emmett, longtime resident of Winston and founder of The Garage in downtown, said that art and entities that promote art like the Wherehouse Art Hotel are an essential tool in promoting community engagement and act as a glue that can bind people through shared experiences.
“That building and what it has been over the years is a hugely important part of where Winston-Salem is now and how it has gotten here,” said Emmett.
The hotel operates utilizing the Airbnb platform which is important for Thompson as she tries to maintain the spirit of the original inhabitants of the building.
“I feel like there’s a reason people use Airbnb over a hotel and one of those is that its affordable and they’re getting an experience,” said Thompson, “I haven‘t raised my prices since I opened even though I’m constantly booked. Maybe a business person would say that means your prices are too low, but it’s a heart thing not a heavy pockets thing.“
Thompson‘s focus in running the hotel is not one of capitalistic gain, but of creating an enjoyable space and platform to showcase artists and their work. Almost all of the paintings that adorn the walls of the hotel are available for purchase. In essence, the hotel doubles as an art gallery.
What‘s more is that unlike a gallery that typically take 50 percent of all art sales, Thompson takes 20 percent because she is able to supplement her income with the earnings from the lodging portion of the hotel.
In addition to showcasing art, the hotel has become a platform for local organizations to broadcast their message and host fundraisers.
Most recently, The Wherehouse Art Hotel partnered with El Buen Pastor and the Hispanic League to host a variety show and silent auction to aid DACA recipients who have been supported by El Buen Pastor.
Jason Wilkinson, development director at the Hispanic League, said that the partnership between El Buen Pastor, The Hispanic League and the Wherehouse Art Hotel came together easily.
“I was talking to an associate about how to make an impact and help DACA recipients and they mentioned that Haydee from the Wherehouse Art Hotel was interested in doing something to help,” said Wilkinson.
In fruition, the silent auction and variety show were highly successful according to Wilkinson.
“We estimated we raised enough for two college scholarships, roughly five thousand dollars,” said Wilkinson.