The planning process for implementing Tourism Zones in the Town of Hillsville got underway on June 25 with a strategic planning session involving a dozen residents. On hand to lead the discussion was Kitty Barker of the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
Travis Jackson, town manager, said it was important to implement Tourism Zones so Hillsville “can provide incentives for tourism-related businesses to locate in Hillsville.”
During the four-hour meeting, a variety of subjects were discussed, including the strengths and weaknesses of Hillsville, what Hillsville is famous for, what businesses are needed, who visits the town and how to promote Hillsville as a tourist destination.
The group determined Hillsville’s strengths were many, including climate and rural setting, the presence of five major highways, the number of visitors’ centers (four), a willing workforce and the town’s history.
Amanda Bourne, assistant director of tourism/visitor center manager, said judging by the number of brochures taken at visitors’ centers, tourists were “most interested in the farm experience and history.”
Weaknesses were determined to be a lack of communication and coordination between the tourist venues, government and the hotel industry, limited funding, lack of a “big name” restaurant, a lack of public restroom facilities in the historic district, and a lack of signage informing tourists of what Hillsville has to offer.
Barker said tourists like having “suggested itineraries. They want to know what lodging, restaurants and attractions are available.” She added that Hillsville must also find out what types of activities interest tourists.
Barker went on to say that Hillsville has to makes itself a “destination. “Blowing Rock reinvented itself” and Hillsville needs to do the same thing, she said. However, Barker said it was important for the town to draw on its own attributes and not try to copy another popular tourist town.
“Find your niche, find out what makes you different,” Barker advised.
With that in mind, Jackson said the town needed to capitalize on the thing it’s most noted for, “the Allen tragedy.” He proposed an outdoor drama that would also incorporate tours of the Hillsville Courthouse where the shootout took place and a restored Sydney Allen home at Fancy Gap.
A festival in the downtown historic district was also mentioned as a possible draw for tourists by Bourne. Shelby Puckett added that at one time the town had an Old Mountain Week, which eventually became Old Mountain Day.
“We already have a blueprint, we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said.
However, it was mentioned that during the Downtown Celebration and Cruise-In held from May through September, businesses are usually closed. Barker said that can’t happen with a downtown celebration.
As an example of what can be accomplished with some creative thinking, Barker spoke about a Bristol downtown celebration that featured the British folk-rock group Mumford & Sons. When asked to stay open, business owners rejected the idea. However, they eventually were talked into it and altered their wares for that particular event. Since fans of Mumford & Sons are extremely fond of hats, one clothing store hung a British flag and sold nothing but hats. Another sold nothing but fake moustaches, which are also a favorite of the group’s fans, as well as placing mustaches on mannequins, posts or any other thing they could think of. Another business sold bottle water. Each business did extremely well, said Barker.
Barker asked those present what they would like to see happen to Hillsville during the next five years to lure people to town.
Jackson said he envisioned transforming the old jail “into an artisan and tourist center.” Among other improvements mentioned were specialty shops, an antique mall, downtown restaurants that featured local wines, music and art, a completely refurbished Hale-Wilkinson-Carter Home, a refurbished Historical Museum second floor, seasonal flags hanging on the streets, murals and landscaping.
Barker closed by saying, “I will put all this information into draft form. I’ll actually be putting action items in so you can see what you need to do to make this happen. With Travis’ knowledge of grants, I think you have an excellent opportunity to grow.”
Jackson added, “I think this is a great first step. We are looking at what is in the best interest of our region. What’s good for Carroll County will be good for Hillsville and what’s good for Hillsville will be good for Carroll County. I have great hopes for our region.”