I was born, raised and educated at Matthew Whaley and the College of William and Mary and married in Williamsburg at Bruton Parish. While I haven’t lived in the city for more than 50 years, it is still my hometown.
Colonial Williamsburg CEO Mitchell Reiss has resurrected the idea of a fence around the restored area for the purpose of security, he says. The real reasons are the corporation’s declining revenue and debt load. A fence would require anyone visiting the restored area to purchase admission. I suppose the recent bombing in Merchants Square will provide another argument for his fence. Does he now propose fencing off Merchants Square?
Public tastes have changed over the decades. CW is not the first corporate entity to feel changing demographics and interests of the public. Locally, the Common Glory was forced to close after the 1976 season due to the arrival of Busch Gardens and the public’s turn toward lighter forms of entertainment. That the Glory was held outdoors without air conditioning in summer heat certainly was a factor as well.
Businesses that plan ahead usually do well. However, some changes are difficult to foresee: Few could imagine 10 years ago that cellular and video streaming services would soon severely impact landline telephone, cable TV and AT&T’s U-verse, for example. More successful businesses are able to accommodate change or react quickly when their business begins to decline. It appears that CW continued to do much of what it had always done in much the same way as it always had. There were many good years, but long-term factors were promising many lean years. Those lean years have arrived.
There are serious questions to be asked regarding the proposed fence. Where, exactly, will it run? What will it look like? How high will it be? How will it impact police and fire services and residents within the area and on the periphery? Will there be multiple entry points or will all have to pass through a single gate? Will there be armed guards patrolling the fence? Without armed guards, a person intent on perpetrating an incident will find a way of breeching the barrier.
I think it is entirely possible that a fence will result in more decline in attendance, which will impact not only Colonial Williamsburg but businesses in Merchants Square and elsewhere in the city. Those who enjoy the ambience of the city but do not buy admission tickets still spend money in Williamsburg. I realize this is just speculation, but something to be considered.
For me, personally, the thought of having to pay admission to walk down my hometown’s main street is less outrageous than sad. Why should I drive more than 500 miles or pay to fly back to my hometown and not be allowed to enjoy Williamsburg in the glorious days of Fall or the green days of Spring?