The Marriott Hotels, which is one of the leading hotel chains globally, once had a humble beginning that started when John Williard Marriott and his wife opened a root beer stand in Washington D.C. It was during his full-time mission, when the Marriotts were convinced that the residents needed a place to get a cool drink.
When they first built a hotel in Philadelphia in the 1960s, it was Marriott’s first purely suburban hostelry. Bill’s father had recently acquired the land for $30,000 in the 1940s, and it was just outside the city’s limits near the Schuylkill Expressway and less than five miles away from the west center of the city.
In an article published by LDS Living, it was revealed that when a contingent of businessmen in Philadelphia offered J.W. $1 million for the property, he famously declined and asked, “why?”
“We want to build a hotel there; it’s a better location than any you’ve got in Washington.” A few years later, he gave Bill the signal to build a hotel in the area.
The board’s approval presented J.W. with an old dilemma—serving alcohol.
Bill told LDS Living that their first few hotels were built in “dry” states. On the other hand, Philadelphia was a “wet” state that allowed establishments to sell liquor except on Sundays.
Bill knew that they had to sell alcohol to be profitable. He asked Hotel consultants for further assessment and came to the same conclusion. He went to his father for advice.
J.W. was hesitant to serve alcohol in their hotels since it is against the word of wisdom. His son advised his father to consult with Church leadership, as he had in the past. So he did.
He met with the late President David O. McKay for counsel.
“As you know, Brother Marriott,” President McKay told him, “the Word of Wisdom also enjoins abstinence from the use of tobacco, except as an herb for bruises and for sick cattle. Moreover, it enjoins abstinence from the consumption of hot drinks, such as tea or coffee.”
“Yes, President, I am aware of that.”
“Well, then, I will ask you as one brother to another, suppose a sheepman, like you were, goes into a grocery store owned by a Mormon to buy supplies, and he wants cigarettes for his men. If the storekeeper says—’Sorry, we don’t carry tobacco in any form because it’s against our religion’—why the customer won’t come back the next time. If he wants coffee for his men and the storekeeper says—’We disapprove of it, and we don’t want your men to drink it either’—he won’t come back again. He’ll go to the store down the street not only for his tobacco and coffee but for everything else he needs. In the long run, this could put the storekeeper out of business, don’t you agree?”
“Yes, President, it could—very easily,” J.W. responded.
“As I see it, Brother Marriott, if you don’t satisfy your customers’ wants and needs, you could be running the same risk. If liquor today is an essential part of the service that the hotel and restaurant industry offers to its patrons, it seems to me that you’re obliged to sell it to them. To sell it to them doesn’t mean that we approve of drinking any more than to sell a gun means approval of using that gun to commit a crime.”
“The patron who believes as we do is not compelled to buy liquor, nor, indeed, is anyone. But it is the patron’s life, his money, his right to decide for himself, not ours.”
President McKay counseled J.W. to avoid liquor sales in any family-oriented areas.
“It is hard sometimes to find the right path in these confusing times. But I know you will find it, and I know you will follow it.”
J.W. went back to Washington a changed man. They made liquor available for patrons of the specialty hotel restaurants and lounges, but never in the Hot shoppes or any other eateries where children and teenagers went.
Marriott Hotel is the largest hotel chain in the world by the number of available rooms. Since its foundation, the hotel provided copies of the Book of Mormon and the Bible in their hotel rooms.
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