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Spotlight

Washington community comes together amid pandemic

Posted June 22, 2020 1:40 p.m. EDT

After the pandemic forced businesses to close, Arts of the Pamlico quickly pivoted scheduled events for the Historic Turnage Theatre and other programming in order to keep offering arts and cultural opportunities to Washington residents. (Photo Courtesy of Washington Tourism Development Authority)

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.

As the nation starts to slowly reopen while still remaining cautious about the presence of the coronavirus, towns like Washington, N.C., are navigating their "new normal."

Like thousands of others across the nation, businesses and organizations in Little Washington were forced to shutter their doors due to the COVID-19 lockdown. For towns like Washington that rely heavily on hospitality, tourism and the arts, it was a tough blow.

However, its citizens came together amidst the pandemic, revealing that, with a little ingenuity and the support of one another, they could make it through.

Downtown food and beverage businesses got creative. The Wine Crate for example, created take-home charcuterie platters that were popular curbside pickup pleasers. The Hackney, a farm-to-fork restaurant and gin distillery, created at-home cocktail kits and different menu options more well-suited for takeout.

"We consider ourselves fine dining, and fine dining isn't really well-suited for takeout, so we've had to kind of reimagine our menu so that it was appropriate for takeout without losing the soul of our food," said Nick Sanders, owner of The Hackney. "So we kept true to our principles of sourcing local, but we re-engineered our menu so it was more takeout friendly — things like sandwiches, some cheaper options, and stuff that works in a takeout box rather than sitting on a plate."

A big part of The Hackney's business is its bar, as it is well-regarded for its crafted cocktails. Knowing some of its customers would be missing their signature drinks, The Hackney developed at-home-cocktail kits. The boxes of proportioned ingredients, mixers and garnishes helped people make cocktails of three of The Hackney's popular drinks: Salt of the Earth, Field of Dreams and The West Main.

As the popularity of these initial cocktail kits increased, The Hackney launched kits with seasonal variations and ingredients, like strawberries for example.

"We took some of our best-known cocktails that people really love and we made those into cocktail kits so people could effectively make them themselves. We premixed all the cocktails and people could buy those and take them home," Sanders said. "And obviously this helps us too, because a lot of our cocktails are built around the gin from our distillery, so by linking the cocktails to our gin, it's helped drive the sales of our gin too."

But beyond buoying its own business efforts during this time, The Hackney has also been producing a much-needed product for the community at large — hand sanitizer, thanks to its distillery operations.

"The big issue with producing hand sanitizer for many businesses is the predominant ingredient is alcohol, therefore you need to be part of the alcohol supply chain to legally produce it. Obviously we have a distillery permit, so we were able to do that," Sanders said. "Lots of people and the frontline community here were having real problems getting a hold of it. We asked local businesses and individuals to help donate to our operations so that we could produce and provide hand sanitizer for free to all kinds of frontline services in the county — EMS, hospitals, doctors, businesses that had to stay open and care homes, which is really good."

The local support that citizens showed The Hackney has also been felt in other areas of the community.

Debra Torrence, executive director of the Arts of the Pamlico — an organization that provides cultural opportunities through artistic programs in Beaufort County and beyond — had to come up with new ideas when social distancing meant no more packed theaters and summer camps.

Torrence quickly pivoted scheduled events for the Historic Turnage Theatre and other programming in order to keep offering arts and cultural opportunities to Washington residents.

"AOP owns the Historic Turnage Theater. We're an arts and cultural center, and we typically offer everything in person. When COVID-19 happened, we wanted to find ways to support our community, reduce some stress and have people be able to access beauty and art through virtual means," Torrence said.

"The minute those theater doors closed, all our events stopped. We needed to refund people who were renting the theater for events, but at the same time, we support dozens of community groups and art culture groups," Torrence continued. "We thought, how are we going to allow them to reach their audiences? How can we support them? How can we get these things out to people for little to no cost, knowing that people are suffering financially right now? We pivoted pretty quickly and created the Open Sky Arts Initiative."

The Open Sky Arts Initiative offers online cultural opportunities such as playwriting and creative writing for youth, a reader's theater for adults, an online costume tour, live streamed concerts and more.

Additionally, AOP has ramped up its BoCo Town podcast, which it started before the pandemic. Instead, the show records everything on Zoom now.

The arts organization is also offering virtual camps for kids since in-person camps won't be able to take place until Phase III of the state's reopening. These virtual camps include things like online play writing, pottery and visual art. AOP also launched its first online art exhibit showcasing 55 pieces of art by more than 20 local artists, available to view through the organization's website and Facebook page.

"We've already sold two pieces of art, so it's really helping to support artists as well. We're also going to launch theater subscriptions next month. Our actors — when it's safe — will actually be performing on stage and people can view the productions online at home," Torrence said. "Everybody has been willing to join in and help."

Between the volunteers that are lending their time to produce the BoCo podcast, supporters who have purchased art, staff that's pitched in with little income, and citizens who've engaged with the Open Sky Arts Initiative, the Washington community has truly come together in trying times.

"Something that I firmly believe, and it's probably overused, but it does take a village," Torrence said. "We're a large building with a small organization and a lot of facility expenses to keep a large, historic theater going. We know we're not the only entity, not the only nonprofit. But we work really hard to collaborate with as many people as we can and open up this building to as many people as we can, because, to us, it's their building — it's a community theater."

Added Sanders, "We have a close knit community here — generally people work together well. I feel optimistic for the future."

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.

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