As in many Colonial towns, the older parts of Alexandria have become a magnet for visitors from around the world. Within a six-block walk, we have the home where George Washington visited Gen. Braddock to plan what became the French and Indian War; the tavern where he frequently dined and where his Inaugural Ball was held; his reconstructed town house where he spent the nights when his beloved Mount Vernon was just too far away; and the church he helped organize and build and where he regularly worshiped. All but one of these and many more historic buildings is open to visitors.
This has created an economy that supports the concentration of many fine restaurants, retail shops and artists studios on the waterfront of this Colonial seaport. It is this concentration originally imposed by the nature of seaport operations that has led to the hustle and bustle, the excited crowds that create an atmosphere of an ongoing party on our waterfront.
It is the size of the crowds that supports the street entertainers, the balloon artists, magicians, quick portrait artists and, most notably, the large variety of country, pop and classical musicians, who make a walk along the waterfront an experience to be remembered.
It is exciting experiences which, when recalled by visitors, plant the seeds for new visitors with similar expectations. While all our guests certainly enjoy the pervasive atmosphere, there are perhaps two distinct categories of visitors. Many are turned on by museums, historic buildings and classic architecture. They will spend many hours at such sites.
A larger number of visitors have spent their time on the central waterfront area and lower King Street and spoken glowingly about what they saw and heard when they got home. There is evidence that many of these do not know that anyone noteworthy lived around here.
We can count on the travel agents who organize the bus tours to keep future visitors aware of our historic jewels. However, visitors who drive here may be coming solely to find the party experience they have heard described. The street entertainers, who may be the most important attraction for these visitors, might well be the element to encourage those who would come from National Harbor.
There may be no accurate statistical means to measure it, but this regular observer is convinced the number of these entertainers, weekdays and weekends, has fallen off this summer. If there is a way to encourage more of them to come, it would add to the pleasure of all. After all, people do not come to this central waterfront area to see historic homes, businesses, churches, or any kind of architecture. They come to see and hear something they would never see at home something quite unique.
Bob Rika resides in Alexandria.