The above quote was overheard while browsing around the “Made in Virginia Store” during my trip to downtown Fredericksburg on Friday afternoon. I’ve been hanging out downtown for four years now, but I’ve never seen the town through a more anthropological view as I did on Friday. The date was Friday, September 26th, and the time was 2:00 pm. The weather was less-than-optimal: gray skies, a light drizzle, and cooler temperatures. Because of the bad weather and awkward afternoon time, there were not too many shoppers out. Most of the people I observed strolling down the street were older people, couples holding hands, and tourists. Most of these people were window shopping for little trinkets and souvenirs – no one really comes to downtown Fredericksburg to run their errands.
Even though UMW students complain about how “boring” Fredericksburg is, downtown offers a variety of things to do. Restaurants such as the Bangcock Cafe, Castiglia’s, Spirits, La Petit Auberge, Bistro Bethem, The Burbon Room, and Sammy T’s offer diners a variety of diverse and surprisingly ethnic food. Students, families, tourists, and other shoppers can be seen strolling down Caroline Street, peering into the windows of various coffee shops, antique stores, salons, art galleries, specialty stores, and gift shops. Fredericksburg has a quaint, historic feel to it. Civil war museums and historical placards remind you that you are in a town with lots of history. The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought here in 1862, and slaves were bought and sold from an auction block on the corner of Williams and Charles Streets. Trash cans are disguised as barrels to add to the historic feel of the town. At night, when the old-fashioned street lights illuminate the brick buildings and sidewalks, the town looks almost like a movie set. The originators of the City Beautiful movement in the beginning of the 20th century would be pleased with the aesthetic appeal of the town.
I browsed in and out of a few stores during my afternoon’s trip. First, I ventured into the Made in Virginia Store, as mentioned above. For a Yankee girl raised in New York, this was a terrifying reminder that I now lived REALLY south of the Mason-Dixon line. The store sells, obviously, only goods that were made in Virginia. The store has a rustic, general store kind of feel to it, and is a testament to Southern pride. The shelves are adorned with various goods that would appeal to any Virginia local or tourist, such as boiled peanuts, homemade jams, Confederate flag pins, Civil War figurines, and Virginia is For Lovers t-shirts. I even found some hand-painted models of various Fredericksburg sites. “Downtown” the sign above the display said. “Collect the friendly places of Fredericksburg!” Little figurines such as these would be perfect for tourists to bring home, place on their mantle, and provoke houseguests to ask about their trip to Fredericksburg. While I was in the store, two older women and one younger woman were perusing throughout the aisles. As I was testing out a “Johnny Reb” cap gun, these three women found the Virginia ham and bacon display. “Ted would LOVE some Virginia bacon, don’t you think?” asked one woman to the others. “Oh I’m sure he would, this stuff is just to DIE for. But do we really want the car to smell like bacon the whole ride home?” I couldn’t help but giggle to myself, but this comment made me realized that people actually do come to Fredericksburg on vacations and day-trips. In the end, the women settled for a “Virginia is For Lovers” t-shirt, which was apparently for the younger woman’s fiancee’. I still think Ted would have liked some bacon better.
I also walked into Riverby Books, a small book store that appeals to older readers and young hipster readers alike. The shop is cozy, with books lining two floors of book shelves. The upstairs level has a quaint loft feel to it, where shoppers can get cozy on a comfy chair and read the first few pages of a unique book they are about to buy.
One of my favorite places to people watch in Fredericksburg is Hyperion Coffee. I’ll sit outside with my friend Sam as we sip lattes and observe the people walking by. People of all kinds stop into Hyperion for a cup of coffee, attracted by their warm lighting and artsy interior design. Business men, jogging moms, students, and retirees sit and sip as they watch the world go by. Hyperion also sells overpriced, trademarked merchandise such as coffee mugs, thermoses, and t-shirts.
I feel as if Fredericksburg is not living up to its full potential as a downtown destination. When I visit my friends at UVA and we visit the downtown areas where students hang out in Charlottesville, it is teeming with life. Even after midnight, people are walking around, sitting on benches, playing music, or eating a late-night snack. It seems like the lights go out in Fredericksburg after 5 pm. I think if there was a more accessible “town square” area, like the piazzas I found in Europe, people would be more likely to convene and hang out there. For some reason, maybe because of it’s semi-hidden location, Market Square does not fulfill this purpose. Also, the shops close at 5 pm! There is no point in hanging around if you can’t go anywhere. Businesses should take advantage that they are located in a college town by appealing to students. If, for example, I could use my meal plan downtown, my friends and I would hang out there every night! Because of these characteristics, downtown Fredericksburg really only attracts older customers doing leisurely shopping during the day.
All-in-all, it was a good afternoon. I walked into Castiglia’s on my way back to make reservations for dinner that evening. I was surprised to find that the waiter could speak better to me in Italian than in English! How this guy made it to Fredericksburg from Naples, I have no idea, but I think it’s neat that this little town attracts so many different types of people. Even though it is on a much smaller scale than New York, Boston, or Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg is a good example of what life is like in downtown America.