Owner of Chesterfield Hotel in 1980s shares memories – and sadness at building’s imminent demolition
Abraham Bejerano has fond memories of Chesterfield.
“I liked the town – indeed I liked the whole of Derbyshire,” said Mr Bejerano, who bought the Station Hotel, later renamed Chesterfield Hotel, in January 1983.
“I also liked the hotel building.
“For me, it was like a sleeping giant.
“When I acquired it, it had been losing a lot of money under the previous owners – and I wanted to bring it back to life.
“It was a gamble.”
But it was a gamble that paid off.
Mr Bejerano invested heavily in the iconic property – and was successful in turning its fortunes around.
He did, indeed, bring it back to life – and made Chesterfield Hotel a go-to place for many thousands of people during his ownership.
‘Business boomed for years’
Mr Bejerano, founder of AB Hotels, has spoken to the Derbyshire Times ahead of the imminent demolition of the huge building, which he owned for five ‘glorious’ years.
During that time, he modernised the 73-bedroom hotel and employed around 70 local people whose mission was simple – to provide top-quality customer service, accommodation, food and drink.
“When I bought the hotel, all the decor was very old fashioned – it was stuck in the 50s and 60s,” Mr Bejerano recalled.
“Around 40 per cent of the bedrooms didn’t have en-suite bathrooms.
“I changed all that – I refurbished the entire property from top to bottom.
“I brought in the right staff and trained them to the highest standards.
“I had some remarkable people, some of the best I’ve worked with.
“They were second to none – so honest, dedicated and hard-working.
“I – and they – placed enormous emphasis on providing the best customer service, accommodation, food and drink.
"I really want to mention some individual exceptional names – including Margaret Bennett, Jennifer Peck the accountant, Gary the chef, Wendy in housekeeping, together with Agnes and Betty – all as outstanding employees."
“I changed the whole concept of the restaurant and bar," he added.
“I ensured we were providing delicious dishes in the restaurant and I made the bar a fun place by offering interesting drinks and cocktails.
“I came from London and wanted to bring a bit of the city to Chesterfield.
“I also changed the name from the Station Hotel to Chesterfield Hotel to give it more of a local identity and I worked very closely with the council to market it better.
"The leader of the council at the time, Bill Flanagan, who was a champion for regeneration, had the foresight to recognise the potential and gave his full support to the hotel, as did Geoff Cass who helped promote the hotel on the leisure and tourism side.
“Within a few weeks, we went from zero customers to being absolutely packed.
“Business boomed for years and years.
“It was an enormous transformation.
“We worked very hard – but the results came.”
Memories of ‘amazing’ customers
For thousands of local people, Chesterfield Hotel, which opened in 1877, is probably best remembered as a function venue rather than as a place to stay.
For decades it was the venue to have a birthday party, wedding reception, retirement do and so on.
It was a popular choice for club dinners and lunches as well as business meetings, fashion shows, trade exhibitions and the like.
Mr Bejerano described his customers as ‘amazing’ – and remembers two in particular.
“I owned the hotel during the miners’ strike,” he said.
“One miner used to come to the hotel every day after his shift for a pint and then go home.
“Another used to come with his mother every Sunday for Sunday lunch.
“During the strike when there was tremendous hardship for so many, they stopped coming – and I felt very sad for them.
“But I saw them in town – so I invited them to the hotel and gave them free food and drink.
“They were overjoyed.
“They were such nice people – indeed all the people of Chesterfield are.”
He also recalls the ‘buzz’ in the town when Labour stalwart Tony Benn became Chesterfield’s MP in the high-profile 1984 by-election.
Sadness at upcoming demolition
Mr Bejerano said he made the ‘difficult decision’ to sell Chesterfield Hotel in August 1988 and return to London for family reasons.
After then, Chesterfield Hotel changed hands a number of times but unfortunately suffered from lack of investment and increased competition.
It closed in 2015 and has lain empty for much of the last six years – with many describing the building as an ‘eyesore’.
Chesterfield Borough Council acquired the Malkin Street site last year and work is currently taking place to clear and strip out the inside of the property before full demolition soon.
A temporary car park is expected to be created in its place while proposals for the site’s future are developed as part of the council’s HS2 Station Master Plan.
Councillors last year approved an outline planning application to build offices and a car park with around 40 spaces at the location.
Councillor Tricia Gilby, council leader, said last year: “Chesterfield Hotel was a significant building and a venue which has served the town well over the years.
“Sadly, the costs to remodel and refurbish the building to bring it back into productive use are too high, and it is deemed an unviable option as compared with redevelopment of the site."
Asked how he felt about Chesterfield Hotel soon being no more, 73-year-old Mr Bejerano said: “So very sad.
“In my personal opinion, if it’s going to become offices, it’s a shame they can’t keep the building and convert it.
“I have many wonderful memories of that place.
“I will never forget Chesterfield Hotel.”