Partial reopening of Winchester Mystery House overshadowed by layoffs

For nearly a century, the historic Winchester Mystery House in San Jose has lured tourists from all over the world with its unique architecture and curiosities. 

Now, the COVID-19 crisis is forcing managers to take a very conventional approach to partially reopen and meet payroll.
Thursday morning, some workers were readying for Friday’s partial reopening, but this brand of history is getting a new twist. Now, there will be self-guided, touchless tours of the Victorian Gardens only, as the coronavirus has forced the mansion’s closure and the layoff of 90% of the staff.
“It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. We have the most passionate, incredible, caretakers here,” said Walter Magnuson, Winchester's general manager. “We did have to make some very upsetting decisions personnel-wise. But again, it’s our hope that our business rebounds and grows. And we’re able to employ many more people than we currently have.”
Maintenance Technician Betsy McDonnell was weeks shy of her four-year anniversary with Winchester when she got the news she’s one of 75 employees who’ve been let go.
“There’s nothing personal about this, at all,” she said.
An optimist and former healthcare worker, McDonnell still touts the mystery house and chooses to see this time of turbulence as a positive.
“I have a choice to look at this as a new beginning. As opposed to focusing on the sadness,” she said.
Winchester Mystery House isn’t alone in trying to navigate COVID-19 infested economic waters. Other attractions have also shuttered, including Great America in San Jose. And the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is closed until further notice. 
“Anybody in the tourism or hospitality industry is enormously affected,” said San Jose State University Strategic Management Professor Dr. Robert Chapman Wood.
He said says at least 40% of the people who’ve lost jobs due to the coronavirus shutdown are in service industries. While he says the timing of Winchester's reopening and layoff duel announcements is odd, it’s also part of the process to rebuild an audience and industry.
“Once we get a vaccine, things will be back, you know, the tourism businesses will be a good business again,” said Dr. Wood.
McDonnell, who still wears her Winchester polo-style shirt, hopes she’s ready, able, and willing to work once the turnaround does arrive.
“God willing, we’re gonna find a safe and healthy way through all of this,” she said.