MOREAU — The Landmark Motor Inn has been attacked in racist posts on a Facebook page masquerading as the inn’s official page.
Owner Shawn Asghar bought the inn a year ago. He was born in Pakistan but has been an American citizen for decades, and almost immediately began encountering racist remarks from some of his staff.
He gave everyone a raise, kept the same bonuses and other benefits offered by the previous owner, and told his new general manager to “be patient” with staff, because it’s hard to have a change in management.
But when they set up a penny jar, using it to compete for the best joke of the day about Pakistanis, his general manager realized it was time to stop being patient. Several employees were fired and others chose to leave.
By then, the damage was done.
Employees had been overheard telling guests that “the Pakistani” owner had allowed the inn to get run down, even though he’d only owned the building for a few months. They told guests he didn’t care about the business, even though he added a computerized booking system shortly after he took over.
After one employee gave her two week’s notice, she began criticizing Asghar to his face.
“One day, he asked me a question, and she whirled around and said, ‘Well, if you were born in America, you would know,’” said General Manager Florence Sherman.
He replaced those staff members, but things got worse. A year before he bought the business, employees had created an official Facebook page for the inn. It had never been updated after it was created, and he didn’t know it existed.
Someone had the password for the account, and in March began posting as the inn. Messages ranged from “Don’t stay here!” to “Owned by Pakistani with no respect for the USA.”
A guest pointed it out to Sherman last week. She had to break it to Asghar.
“He was nearly in tears,” she said.
They have asked Facebook to take down the page, but Facebook refused because the content doesn’t violate their policies. They are hoping friends will deluge Facebook with reports that the page is fake, because it is masquerading as the official page even though it is not controlled by company workers.
They are also hoping that people who have stayed at the inn will add positive reviews, to drown out the negative posts on the Facebook page. Some people have already begun commenting on the page, noting it appears to have been hacked. But what they don’t understand is that since Asghar never had a password for the account, he can’t do anything about the posts.
Asghar owned a hotel in Albany before buying the Landmark Motor Inn. He has lived in the United States since he was 17, is an American citizen and has married and raised a family here. Until now, he has never encountered racism, he said.
“I’m from Albany. I had property there for many years. I never encountered this,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
After the Facebook posts began in late March, the motel suffered a wave of cancellations this month, Sherman said. Most of them were done through hotel booking websites, so she wasn’t able to ask people why they were canceling.
But she has heard from some guests who said they would not return because staff told them the new owner was bad.
“I don’t know how to fix this,” she said. “He is such a gentle person. I never knew hate until I walked into this place — they just hated him.”
Asghar said business has slowed significantly — so much that he has had to reduce his housekeepers’ hours.
“It’s hurting them, this thing,” he said.
Housekeeper Paula Ashline, who has worked there for four years, said some of the employees seemed ready to hate Asghar from the start.
“I said, I’m going to give him a chance,” she said.
It worked out. She was glad to get a raise and keep the bonuses offered twice a year by the last owner.
“He gave me a good pay — I like what I’m getting paid now. And he comes around and says hi to us, so he knows our faces,” she said. “I like how he’s doing things differently.”