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Petaluma’s Shannon Kramer brings theme park magic to downtown hotel

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“We had 40 gingerbread houses in Hotel Petaluma the first year, 60 the second, and this year we expect over 100 will be showcased in our historic ballroom and lobby,” assistant General Manager Shannon Kramer tells us. “The festive display is a free event, and everyone can cast a vote for the people’s choice award.”

Originally dreaming of becoming the hospitality manager for an amusement park, Kramer moved to Petaluma during her stint shadowing the Executive Director at the Sonoma County Fair.

“As part of the Western Fairs Association executive development program, I spent a year shadowing directors at several county fairs, and then the State Fair in Sacramento,” she says. “In 2015, the new owners of the Hotel Petaluma had already begun extensive renovations to the historic property, and when they held a job fair, I got hired as the sales and catering manager. Building upon my dozen years managing special events (including the Sonoma County Fair’s cattle drive through downtown Santa Rosa in 2011), I moved up to my current position a year and a half ago.”

Kramer says she does everything the public expects an assistant general manager of a boutique hotel to do.

“Front desk, reservations, HR,” she says, ticking items off a mental list. “But my main task is to make this a destination for locals — a place where people want to come. The holiday season is very busy around here. We ended November by partnering with The Fabulous Women for their Festival of Trees fundraiser, and every Friday night in December, we use a snow machine to create snow flurries in the courtyard, where Santa Claus is a regular visitor. From the 13th to the 15th the Petaluma Radio Players will be doing live performances of two Sherlock Holmes comedies in their famous live-theater-style in the Goldman Ballroom.”

Named after the philanthropic owners of the Leader Department Store (housed in the streamlined-building on the corner of Western and Kentucky), the ballroom’s name prompts a visit to the bronze plaque in the lobby that explains how the 1926 hotel was “made possible through the cooperative effort of eight hundred and fifty five men and women of Petaluma,” who bought shares in the hotel and raised $250,000 of the eventual $350,000 price tag. The plaque continues: “(The hotel) stands as evidence and proof of the faith which the people of Petaluma have in each other and in their city.”

The gingerbread house showcase — which will be on display Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7-8, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 9, 1-5 p.m. — demonstrates the same kind of community spirit, Kramer believes.

“The original idea came from my boyfriend, Ant, who used to work here,” she adds. “We have limited the size to a base of 30”x 30,” and allow a few external elements to be non-edible. But everything else has to be tasty enough to eat. The house builders are super creative and the gingerbread houses are all mixed up as they arrive. Then we place them by size to create a good mix, so I have no specific idea of what this year’s display will look like when it’s finished. I’m just prepared to be amazed.”

Busy as she is, Kramer still makes time to sing second soprano with the Petaluma Chorale (part of the SRJC’s Community Education Department). “With our mixture of familiar holiday songs and carols, this is my favorite time of the year to be singing.”

(Contact Gil at gilmansergh@comcast.net)