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Garden Week greens local economy

BY CATHY JETT

The homes on Tuesday’s tour during Historic Garden Week in Virginia were a bustle of activity.

Sarah Pierson, who chaired the local event, noticed that workers were painting and putting the finishing touches on gardens at all six houses.

The money homeowners spent on sprucing up before 1,340 people from around the world arrived for the annual daylong event is just one of the ways Garden Week provides a boost to the area’s economy, she said.

Restaurants and retailers also benefit, as ticket holders typically take a break to dine and shop while downtown, and out-of-towners often book hotel rooms.

It didn’t hurt that Fredericksburg’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism made getting around easier by hiring two shuttles from Trolley Tours of Fredericksburg to take ticket holders to nine stops, including three on Caroline Street and one on William Street.

“Even if they just get a lap [around the route], they get a good impression of downtown,” said Economic Development and Tourism Director Karen Hedelt.

In addition, the Garden Club of Virginia, which has overseen Garden Week for 79 years, uses the money raised from ticket sales to restore and preserve historic gardens across the state.

That helps increase tourism locally, since those gardens include the ones at Belmont, Kenmore, the

Mary Washington House, the Mary Washington Monument and Stratford Hall, Pierson said.

This year she and co-chair Tori Willis made a special effort to involve downtown businesses in “The Houses, Gardens & Gates Around Kenmore,” the Garden Week tour of Fredericksburg organized by the Rappahannock Valley Garden Club.

They enlarged the program that ticket holders were given to provide more space for ads, and asked retailers, restaurants and hotels to offer special deals on Tuesday.

In response, six downtown restaurants provided fixed-price menus for the day, and many merchants had special sales or promotions. Wine tastings, for example, where held from 4 to 7 p.m. at five stores; food was served at Whittingham’s and Tanya Richey Studio Gallery, both on Caroline Street; and several downtown art galleries stayed open until 7 p.m.

Bistro Bethem, 309 William St., had 95 customers at lunch instead of the normal 25 for a Tuesday, Pierson said. And A Place in Time at 804 Caroline St. gave away a reusable market tote with any purchase of $20 and saw sales increase.

“We had a good day,” said owner Judy Balch. “I do know our figure from last year, and it was definitely up from last year.”

Courtyard by Marriott in Fredericksburg’s Historic District also capitalized on Garden Week’s appeal by offering a package deal that included a copy of “Historic Virginia Gardens: Preservation Work of the Garden Club of Virginia” and access to a hospitality room throughout the day.

Once the tours were over, homeowners celebrated by throwing parties to show off all the beautiful arrangements, Pierson said. That provided yet another economic boost, this time to bartenders, caterers and the like.

Willis, who will be chairing next year’s Garden Week day in Fredericksburg, hopes to expand on the groundwork done with area businesses this year, especially since it will be the 80th Historic Garden Week.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/business/2012/04/27/120/