Battle brings big bucks to the ‘Burg
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BY CATHY JETT
The Battle of Fredericksburg, which decimated the downtown business district 150 years ago, proved a bonanza for it last weekend.
Re-enactors and visitors attending sesquicentennial events filled area hotels, jammed restaurants and kept merchants’ cash registers ringing.
“It was a very good and busy weekend,” said Karen Hedelt, the city’s director of economic development and tourism.
Since Fredericksburg isn’t a corporate-run attraction like Disney World, there’s no way to tell exactly how much money was spent in the area due to the 150th-anniversary commemoration, the annual Candlelight Tour or normal holiday shopping, she said. But hotel occupancy is a good indicator.
“We know our hotel occupancy was high, not just in the city of Fredericksburg but throughout the region,” Hedelt said.
The Courtyard by Marriott at 620 Caroline St., for example, was fully booked weeks in advance of the 150th-anniversary commemoration, said Sharon Blanchard, sales manager.
Several re-enactors portraying officers involved in the battle stayed there, and a number of their uniformed “soldiers” stopped in at its bistro for a bite to eat. Members of the Irish Brigade, which suffered its most severe casualties during the Battle of Fredericksburg, even gave an impromptu presentation in the hotel’s library for other guests.
“It was a different experience for us and real enjoyable for not only the staff but the guests,” Blanchard said. “[The Brigade] is very proud of what they do. It sort of gets you involved in knowing your history. We love things like this happening.”
The Fredericksburg Hospitality House in Central Park also was busy last weekend, both for the commemoration and for Christmas parties, said Bonnie Martin, director of sales and catering.
It also has more Civil War-related business this week. A Civil War tour group is arriving Wednesday, and the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust will be holding a banquet, she said.
Colonial Tavern, which bills itself as “Home to the Irish Brigade,” had its busiest weekend other than on a St. Patrick’s Day since it opened, said Terri Hubbell, an owner of the Irish restaurant and pub at 406 Lafayette Blvd.
“It was just a great event for the city,” she said. “We couldn’t even handle as many people as would have liked to have eaten and drank here because there wasn’t enough room.”
A highlight for her was a private party on the restaurant’s second floor for current and retired members of the “Fighting 69th” of the New York National Guard, to which the lineage of the Irish Brigade has been officially assigned, along with Irish Brigade re-enactors. It included live music by The 6th New Hampshire Contra-Band, which plays Irish and Civil War tunes.
J. Brian’s Tap Room at 200 Hanover St. also was slammed all weekend. Owner Jack Hyland said they prepared for more customers than normal, but weren’t sure exactly how many to expect.
“We opened at 11 on Saturday, and three minutes after 11 we were packed,” he said. “It was pretty much all hands on deck by noon because we were so crowded.”
Hyland said his restaurant normally does about $5,000 worth of business over a weekend. Last weekend the take totaled about $8,000.
“I would say it was easily one of the five biggest days of the year,” he said.
Over at Wally’s Homemade Ice Cream Shoppe at 821 Caroline St., customers patiently waited in a line that stretched down the block to order ice cream, chili, Brunswick stew and other offerings last weekend, said owner Jeff Fults.
“It brought so many people downtown that it was fantastic,” he said. “Any kind of event that can drive people downtown—the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve—I’m all in favor of.”
The Griffin Bookshop & Coffee Bar at 723 Caroline St. was even busier than it was the day of the Christmas parade, said owner Eileen Boyd. She and her staff sold “a ton” of Civil War books, and sold out of those about the Battle of Fredericksburg.
She said she was impressed with how well all the events went off, and how the traffic situation was handled.
“There was an energy in the town that you could feel,” she said. “I know that it was a re-enactment of the battle, but there was a crackling energy going up and down the streets. It was wonderful.”
John Mitchell, who owns The Made in Virginia Store at 920 Caroline St. with his wife, Katherine, said he was twice as busy on Saturday as he’d normally be that time of year.
“The revenue was there,” he said. “I call it cha-ching, cha-ching.”
Mitchell also raved about how well the sesquicentennial events were handled, and said that customers were moved by the commemorative procession through town on Sunday with the sound of the cities’ church bells ringing.
“I overheard conversations about how impressed they were with Fredericksburg,” he said. “There were thousands of people on Saturday. I’m looking forward to the Battle of Chancellorsville next year and the next battle and next battle all the way to 2014 when they go to Appomattox.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407