Thursday, May 7, 2009

How Travelers Are Picking our Pockets

Man At the Wheel

Most everyone residing in Gloucester will agree that we live in a beautiful place. I’ve traveled my share in my lifetime, and visited some wonderful vacation spots, but there’s no place like Gloucester. Waikiki Beach is enchanting and Alaska is certainly picturesque, but Good Harbor Beach at dawn or the Back Shore in the throws of a northeaster beats all! Those scenes and so many more speak to the very heart of what Gloucester is all about. For those of us who live in this beautiful corner of the world we are so fortunate.

Good Harbor Beach at Dawn by Joey C.

In an earlier piece, I wrote about the big summer hotels that once catered to our seasonal tourists. People in the ‘30s and ‘40s visited and stayed weeks, even months, soaking up Gloucester’s attractions. Artists painted busy wharf scenes; the Delphine and Hawthorne Inn cocktail lounges attracted big time talent Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan and George Shearing. For the summer visitors, there was wharf activity in the morning, beaches in the afternoon and night club action from Long Beach to East Gloucester to Magnolia’s Oceanside Hotel in the evening.

In those years our fishing fleet was constantly changing, landing more and more fish. Every resident seeking employment could find work on the wharfs or on the vessels. Our southern fleet of 15 – 20 boats, hailing from Virginia ports, boosted our fish landings here. Their families followed as the boats moved north, adding again to our summer population – all these seasonal residents provided increased local revenue. Gloucester, even during the Great Depression seemed to have it together. We were a total community, interrupted by an annual surge of seasonal visitors who easily fit into the landscape of a busy fishing town.

After the Storm by SmugMug

I’m reminded of the outdoor summer art classes conducted by artist Emile Gruppe. He would have as many as 15 – 20 students in front of the Frank E. Davis Fish Wharf (now the Gloucester House Restaurant) and other waterfront locations, painting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, weather permitting. Gruppe’s students came early in June and some stayed for weeks, taking advantage of his teaching.

Today we have none of that summer activity. All our hotels are gone. Seasonal vacationers are mostly day trippers. Visitors arrive by occasional tour buses that stop at the Fisherman’s Statue, or cruise the Back Shore to the Elks function room for a Sunday wedding reception. Our waterfront is barely recognizable. We’re down to a few day boats and the once visible busy fish landing activity is no more. Whale watching is now our new waterfront industrial thing. The artists complain of fewer subjects to paint or paintings being sold.

Our locals have adjusted to the waterfront downturn having moved on long ago, either to our industrial parks, or away completely. Shipbuilding is non-existent for any remaining local fishermen. Waterfront investment dollars associated with fishing are unheard of.

All of the above is the current status of our once summer visitor industry’s main attraction. Today’s tourists are picking and choosing. They are day trippers, arriving by car, toting picnic baskets and bringing their own cold drinks. Our high school athletic grounds provide parking for recreational trailers and Stage Fort Park is filled with families from Boston suburbs, arriving before dawn staking out cookout areas in front of Cressy Beach and parking their cars along the boulevard by the tennis courts, free of charge.

Gloucester is having its pockets picked by day trippers and people passing through. We, in some cases, are giving our Gloucester away! We are not fully capitalizing on our beautiful amenities. We are not making a concerted effort to attract and keep our visitors in Gloucester, once they come over the bridge. As I write this, the future of an official Visitors’ Center is in question.

In 1994, after our restaurant closed, I took a job as the maitre d' at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Inn in Rockport. The inn provided lodging often to week-long visitors, some even longer. Each morning I overheard dining room guests conversations about their activities planned for the day. What was discussed were day trips to Newburyport for shopping; the Peabody malls; Essex antiquing; the Salem Peabody Museum; and possibly a Rockport train to Boston and the Freedom Trail. I cannot recall Gloucester mentioned as a daytime destination!

Main Street Hotel, originally Savoy Hotel

What are we doing wrong? I’ve asked myself that a million times. Gloucester has all the natural beautiful seaside attractions. We have many of the basics; however, our signature attraction, fishing, is no more. The hanging nets, sails drying, busy vessel harbor traffic and volume fish handling are gone. We must attempt to recreate, promote and provide the short term visitor with a reason for wanting to visit our main attraction, our harbor. We should have a waterfront harbor hotel. The downtown Main Street Savoy Hotel of the ‘50s was inadequate in its day; however, it did provide in town year-round lodging. After 50 years, we should build a downtown harbor front hotel and recreational complex. This has to be the keystone of our harbor economic revitalization plan. Incoming visitors will stay extra days in a friendly downtown hotel facility, shop on our Main Street, and visit the Maritime Heritage Center. We must offer more than undeveloped grass vistas, wrongly placed retail businesses, and only stuffy high end visitor attractions.

The centrally located Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, at Harbor Loop, in conjunction with a harbor front hotel, could become the crown jewel in our new waterfront tourist center. This attraction can be and should be much more, possibly partnering with the nearby former Empire Fish Company, now owned by Peter Mullen & Co. Perhaps refurbishing the Empire’s abandoned fish cutting room and whiting processing area as a static display, a walk through picture display enhanced by a 1940s/50s production exhibit.

One of the most interesting pictorial displays of bygone years was exhibited at a St. Peter’s Fiesta, a showing of memorable past fiestas. That exhibit received rave reviews as a highlight of the Fiesta. We should consider recreating this exhibit along with literally thousands of bygone era pictures of the fishing industry, and make a comprehensive exhibit, “open to the public”, possibly in the old Empire Clothing store on Main Street.

In all our travels through the years, our destinations were always entertaining and interesting. To us, as visitors, there were always events to attend, museums to visit, and public displays or exhibits to entertain us. Gloucester must promote its heritage. Upon arriving, a visitor will have a reason for staying, rent a hotel room, shop on our Main Street, and dine in our excellent restaurants. We only have to keep them entertained! We must provide user friendly exhibits in our museums and along our waterfront. Our Maritime Heritage Center should be a prime player.

I’m told tour buses transport annually 80,000 Nova Scotia school students to the remote Lunenburg’s Fishermen’s Museum of the Atlantic. Gloucester has all the ingredients; we only need to find a way to create more appeal by enhancing our harbor and its existing attractions. We have a product to sell. Let's do it!

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with selling Gloucester - congratulations to Linn Parisi and her talented board of creative directors for their "Discover Gloucester" brochure. Thursday night this new promotional effort was premiered at The Gloucester House . A dream of Linn's for over a year, this professionally created promotional brochure is an "in your hand" excellent advertising piece prepared for visitors to Gloucester. Their efforts deserve recognition! Again, we have a product to sell. We're doing it!

No comments:

Post a Comment