By Veronika Benson
Special to the Rappahannock News
As we awaken to frost on the rolling hills of Rappahannock, some local business owners are using this time to catch their breath before gearing up for the holiday rush, while others are contemplating how they can best endure the potentially slow season ahead.
Autumn brings people to our beautiful county in droves; understandably so, as the colors often rival that of New England’s foliage. And thanks to the local farmers and spirit crafters our Indian summer offers a bounty of gastronomic delights. In addition to what is reaped through harvest, there are “manmade” events such as the End of Oktoberfest, the Flower Show, House Tour, and the RAAC Artist’s Tour, all of which bring hundreds of visitors to the area. Oktoberfest alone brought 1,300 people to Sperryville for its beer-themed festivities.
Many of our local businesses tend to be their busiest during the months of September and October. This fall, Before and After Café, the trendy coffee house in Sperryville, had their busiest season yet. The weekends of the Art and House tours, patrons were lined up out the door in anticipation of one of their hand-crafted lattes or cappuccinos.
Manager Jess Sutten commented on the variety of people who visit her establishment saying, “I just love that I’ve heard so many different languages here in the café.” By inquiring as to what brings these sojourners from faraway, she’s learned many of them come because they’re seeking adventure, just as she did prior to settling in Rappahannock.
One of their Instagram followers recently made an hour and a half pilgrimage just to experience the coffee in this hip, comfortable venue known as “Sperryville’s living room.” Small businesses such as hers provide employment, the rare job opportunity for our younger generations who wish to remain here near family and friends.
In sharp contrast, the nearby Ridge Line Designs, a vintage and Indian jewelry store located next to Copper Fox Distillery and Pen Druid Brewery, experienced a quiet October. Despite this, co-owners Gina and John are optimistic and are hoping for a surge in business during this month’s holidays. They carry an impressive selection of high quality jewelry for both men and women, and the variety is such that one can find something for everyone in their shop. They also create custom pieces, and make repairs.
The retail businesses in the town of Washington have been hopping this fall. According to Ed Olmstead of Rare Finds; Emily Moore, manager of August Georges; and Joanie Ballard, co-owner of Ballard’s, it has been a busy autumn.
All three reported the House and Art tour weekends were their busiest, while the Inn at Little Washington’s Village Market has brought significantly more business to their retail shops on Sundays. Gina, of Ridge Line Designs, has also done well offering her wares at the Inn’s Sunday market.
Foster-Harris House lodging remained consistent on the weekends during the recent “season of gathering,” with owner Klaus Peters hoping to attract more guests who enjoy hiking and wineries. For he believes these are our two greatest treasures. Referencing our neighboring states, he made the point that although they might have mountains as beautiful as Rappahannock, our area offers an abundance of award-winning wineries. Peters is betting on that unique combination.
Theresa Wood, president of Businesses of Rappahannock, expressed the importance of finding a balance between a strong support for tourism while still maintaining the rural feel of Rappahannock. She acknowledges that keeping Rappahannock pristine, while sharing its wonders with folks from afar, will require creative thoughtful approaches, including guidelines that preserve all that we value.
She also believes area leaders are capable of finding innovative ways to bring about just enough change to help keep the community both vital and fiscally sound. Tourism not only brings in revenue, she explains, it also increases employment opportunities for local residents.
Agricultural and art-based offerings, Wood adds, are the safest and most unique ways Rappahannock can encourage tourism without sacrificing local beauty. Wineries, farms, breweries, distilleries, and unique proprietors such as Flourish Roots, and Wild Roots Apothecary are a huge draw to those who live elsewhere.
City dwellers, surrounded by steel and concrete during their work weeks, relish the thought of escaping to an idyllic locale such as Rappahannock. They, like many of us who live here, long for the beauty, relaxation, and unique experiences the county can offer.