Friday, May 22, 2009

How Gloucester's Legacy Can Aid Our Future

The City of Gloucester has a story to tell and we’ve been writing it since 1623. It’s a beautiful human story of a hard working, seafaring community surrounded by water. Our island is no more. Gloucester’s story is THE human experience. It is our heritage, a story like no other. It is our history that could insure our future economic well being. It unfolds in front of Leonard Crask’s famous statue “The Man at the Wheel.”

Many years ago, we attended a surround sound movie experience at Disneyworld in Florida. As we stood watching what was advertised as “best” world attractions around the globe, the very first opening slide was our “Man at the Wheel” statue on the boulevard! This same world famous statue has been selected to be honored on newly minted quarters in 2010. Imagine the exposure Gloucester will gain by this single “no cost to us” honor bestowed by the federal U.S. Mint. This simple gesture could raise the interest of the world traveling community and bring untold numbers to our shores.

Gloucester has all the ingredients to attract thousands of visitors to our unique “fishing town”. People the world over want to visit and witness a fishing type, whale watching, seafaring experience. This is our legacy to the world, and it should be our community mission to tell it. It is this 400-year old heritage that will bail out Gloucester financially!

Partial Portuguese Fleet, 1947

In my youth Gloucester was “the” leading commercial fishing port of the world. Like chocolate is to Hershey, Pennsylvania, fish was to Gloucester, Massachusetts. This place was totally involved in catching, processing and marketing fish. We were the best at what we did, supplying a high protein content food to our domestic market as well as the armed forces throughout WW II. Under the Marshall Plan, after the war, our fishing industry fed the recovering European war torn continent with our ocean harvest! This story is an often forgotten chapter in Gloucester’s history. It should be retold to our visitors.

On all of our touring vacations, most recently to Holland, every experience was geared to that area’s heritage. In every case, these host destinations offered first-rate hospitality to their visitors. Tourism is an industry; do not underestimate Gloucester’s potential as a visitor destination. People are living longer, and it is these older, retired vacationers that desire, crave, and even thirst for a traveling and learning experience. They are willing to pay big bucks for it. In this informational age of the internet and population mobility, we in Gloucester must capitalize on the vast potential of this sightseeing tourism industry. It is our “ace in the hole”.

In the ‘40s, Gloucester’s summer population swelled by the thousands – artists, historians, vacationers – all sought out our natural beauty. These people appreciated and realized what Cape Ann offered. They stayed in our big hotels – the Moorland, Thorwald, Hawthorne Inn and several others. They lived with us for weeks, often the entire summer season! That has changed over the decades. The modern day vacationer is sophisticated, mobile, internet informed, and demands more. They seek exceptional entertainment because they have experienced it elsewhere.

We here on Cape Ann are truly different and it behooves us as a community to promote ourselves. We must not hide our identity, but advertise our heritage. We are the “other cape” with a story to tell. To do that, we must put on a united front. Gorton’s, our principal fish company, could take a leading role. We must offer quality attractions, and enhanced, authentic waterfront exhibits. We could consider renaming some of our streets and waterfront ways after famous fish species, vessels, industry trade marks and the like.

To reiterate, we must as a community open up and aggressively go after this seasonal visitor income potential. We must offer class type attractions to the tourists if we want them to stay and contribute to our economy. It could be the answer for our economic resurgence. We must change and invite people in; we do not have the luxury of continuing a lethargic mode in terms of waiting for a fishing industry to regenerate itself. We must get off the dime and reinvent ourselves!

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