The struggle to save Main Street is a perplexing puzzle. It pits growth against sustainability and threatens the character of small towns for the sake of money. Yet without a vibrant economic model, those towns will suffer a different fate that is far worse. The path forward will be defined by identifying the real assets towns have to offer in conjunction with the geographic opportunities that present themselves.
Berryville sits in a very interesting position for this kind of approach.
Berryville offers small-town scenery and experiences that visitors immediately latch onto and embrace with a nostalgic warmth and fondness that they carry home with them as distinct memories. They see it, like Mayberry RFD, as a way to connect with simpler times. Nostalgia is the one thing that offers a ray of hope for Berryville.
Researchers have demonstrated that nostalgia can help people nurture a positive outlook. Dr. Tim Wildschut, the co-author of the recent study, explains: “Nostalgia raises self-esteem which in turn heightens optimism. Our findings have shown that nostalgia does have the capacity to facilitate perceptions of a more positive future.”
Details of the study can be found here, but the takeaway is a clear opportunity for small towns everywhere, particularly for those that are in close proximity to dense urban areas. If branded and marketed in an effective way, they can be havens for small-town nostalgic experiences that can be used to develop thriving tourism-based economies.
This is not a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention. One of the high-water marks in recent Berryville history was when Wendy’s came to town to shoot a television commercial. The producers were looking for that quaint, nostalgic look and feel and they landed on our fair town. Yet, while they identified it as the right candidate, in order for it to work they had to dress up main street to make it look like it was a thriving town. Bob’s Sporting Goods quickly became a local legend. It was one of the fake stores that graced the commercial as a backdrop but was, unfortunately, a sign of how far the town has fallen. Despite the set dressing, the perspective from outsiders that the “Mayberry Factor” has a mass appeal points to a path forward.
A Unique Day Trip Destination for Northern Virginia.
Cresting Mount Weather on a clear day while heading west is a breathtaking experience no matter how many times you have seen it. That vista is the entrance point to Clarke from some of the wealthiest counties in the country. It’s a unique and enticing first act in a potential brand that has assets to leverage and room to grow. It is by no means ready for prime time right now, but enough elements are in place to develop a brand narrative that the community can rally behind. More importantly, it could be used to get the local governments to commit their annual economic development funds (which are not insignificant) to things that actually work. It would hinge on a web-centric portal that is a dynamic tool embraced by residents that will allow them to share events and connect through social media while at the same time projecting the brand outward to draw visitors here. It would require collaboration with all the stakeholders involved in tourism and a new approach to marketing for all of them. A robust approach to web marketing for every related attraction linked in a central tourism portal could be developed into a brand experience that doesn’t simply become a directory of things that are here but instead delivers a narrative and day trip options that make it an easy decision for visitors to travel here. People hungry to escape the grind of northern VA would cross the mountain in droves.
Clarke County is close to all of northern VA but feels distant when you’re here. It could be the gem of northern VA where families take day trips in the summer to bike and spend the evening at the Barns of Rose Hill or travel to on the holidays to cut a tree and watch an old-time Christmas parade. The Fairground creates an anchor of events to build day trips around as well. The pieces are here; it just needs to be packaged in a way that people who don’t live here can get a glimpse.
Best of all it is an approach that fits the community and is well within reach. It allows the community to maintain its character while providing an economic model that can be built upon. It builds generational brand appeal as families bring children who then grow up with nostalgic memories of Berryville. It will increase existing property values. It doesn’t require bigger schools or infrastructure, and it plays right into the ongoing efforts to expand conservation easements.
A tourism-based economy is not the complete solution, but it would be a powerful starting point to build upon and create an environment of active economic growth that not only compliments the character of Clarke County but also shares it with a greater audience that craves nostalgia.
It simply takes vision and the will to change.