The virtues and venues of small-town America are alive and well across Virginia, where local businesses open up the shades, sweep off the front sidewalk and welcome another day of genuine downtown charm.
In small towns across the Old Dominion, Main Streets hum with local trade and out-of-towners in search of a festival, historic character, antiques or local art. In coastal fishing and piedmont farming villages, Shenandoah Valley towns and mountain crossroads, Main Street America is alive and well.
Even in large cities, neighborhood enclaves exude small town charm. Browse antique boutiques and ethnic eateries in Norfolk's Ghent district. Shop Richmond's fashionable Carytown and recharge at a brew pub in Shockoe Slip. Sip coffee or slurp homemade ice cream in Alexandria's Delray.
More and more travelers yearn to trade slick packaged tours for authentic experiences. Virginia's Main Streets offer just that. Here, local businesses are nurtured, heritage is preserved, and visitor amenities fostered. All combine to create authentic downtowns, where stores serve everyday needs, like a haircut or a pair of shoes, and cottage industries like pottery, quilting and woodworking, help support the local populace. These are places where you can still get the local news at the old-fashioned hardware store or belly up to a pharmacy soda fountain. Most of all, Virginia Main Streets remain places where folks nod in greeting as you pass by.
These winners in the Great American Main Street program beckon groups to leave the interstate and enter the authentic.
Revitalized historic buildings have attracted dozens of new businesses to this recent Main Street winner. With the renovation of the historic Academy of Music Theater and others, an entire city block of venues and businesses is devoted to the arts. Amazement Square, an interactive children's museum with the nation's tallest indoor climbing tower, resides in a re-purposed industrial building, while the restored 1855 Court House and Lynchburg Museum is a key entree to the city in Greek Revival style. Local produce and arts and crafts are sold at the Lynchburg Community Market, in existence since 1783. The James River Heritage Trail leads walkers and bikers on a tranquil urban excursion along a former railroad bed and the river.
Important gateway to the west and birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, Staunton's Main Street revitalization has made it the "Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley" once again. Victorian architecture, the American Shakespeare Center and Blackfriar's Playhouse, and the magnificently restored Stonewall Jackson Hotel, make this is a viable destination for groups. Hop on the free trolley, or tour by foot these streets of historic buildings filled with boutique shops, art galleries and fine dining.
The smell of home-baked goods and the bright colors of fresh, local produce lure visitors to Old Town's farmer's market. This town of just 20 square blocks is best experienced by walking. Begin a tour at the 1914 historic Train Depot, housing the visitor center and a railroad exhibit about the industry that created the town. Just steps away, fine dining and sidewalk cafes, fine art and country crafts are found in an amazing diversity of downtown shops. Local museums highlight education, candymaking and the arts, but a visit isn't complete without paying homage at Manassas Battlefield, five miles north of Old Town. Here, Gen. Thomas J. Jackson earned the named "Stonewall" during the first major battle of the Civil War.