The 'bleisure' of Washington, NC: A place for both work and fun
Little Washington provides all of the amenities that professionals want and need with an added backdrop of natural beauty to explore after work hours are over.Posted — Updated
No matter how much you love your job, working in the same space day in and day out can get tedious. With today's interconnected workplaces, it is easy to pick up and go somewhere else for a few hours. A change of scenery can provide a much-needed breather and even stimulate creativity.
Residents in Little Washington have plenty of options beyond the standard Starbucks for a change of pace. Instead, you're more likely to find them sipping coffee in front of their laptops on the waterfront thanks to free public wifi or in spaces like a renovated car garage.
"In our current day and age, wifi is a necessity. The waterfront is an area where we want people to be able to gather, sit, relax, walk, exercise and a variety of facts. We wanted to just provide that amenity if people were there to work, or even just check emails on a lunch break or something," said Jonathan Russell, Washington's city manager. "With the changing times and more people needing it, it became a pretty organic process and decision to implement that free wifi along the waterfront."
The city is also looking at installing free wifi at several public parks around the city to increase accessibility and options. They're also working with competing companies to provide a number of alternatives for high speed internet.
Aside from the parks and waterfront, local businesses have also picked up on the community need for flexible workplaces.
When Loralyn Moore moved to Washington with her husband, Trey, a native, she looked for the same thing she always looked for when relocating to a new town – coffee. During her moves, from Oklahoma to Florida, she'd always found somewhere to get her caffeine fix, but Washington was different.
"There was no coffee," said Moore, owner of Giddy-Up Coffee House. "I knew Washington needed a coffee shop. I saw a need here."
Thus, Giddy-Up Coffee House was born. Renovating an old car garage, Moore embarked on a journey to serve Washington residents coffee the right way. At Giddy-Up you won't find a cookie cutter space and burned beans, but smiling faces and alluring aromas instead. From the start, Giddy-Up was designed to be a place that would bring the community together.
"I realized there was nowhere to go to meet somebody," said Moore. "You [would] have to meet at a restaurant. It's just a rare thing these days that you don't feel like you're squatting or in the way. I was so excited when I found this space."
Giddy-Up has now become a staple in Washington. It attracts studying college students, office workers tired of their cubicles and friends who are just catching up.
The unconventional space has a large indoor seating area and was just updated to add a drive-through window. Giddy-Up also opened a second location in Williamston after hearing that customers would drive 25 minutes down to Washington for their morning coffee.
Part of that customer devotion comes from being a place where anyone can hang their hat.
"We want everyone to feel welcome," said Moore. "Not everyone has someone to tell them good morning or to have a good day. It's neat to be the place you take family when they come into town. It's been wonderful; I'm shocked every day, I love little Washington."
Giddy-Up is ideal for remote work or a meetup with a friend, but Washington is also a great location for those looking to start their own business.
Flying Pig Provisions is the second business endeavour from Jeff Furst and his wife, Linda Harrington — owners of When Pigs Fly Inn. The store features local goods, from t-shirts and teas to soaps and soups.
For Furst, Washington offers the perfect small business community.
"Washington has been so supportive and welcoming — it's been a tremendous and positive experience. The town has a sense of community that you just don't find in other places, and there are a number of great resources," said Furst. "We have the Chamber of Commerce, which we're a member of and is a great support group. There is also the Washington Harbor District Alliance, which is another great support group, as well as the Washington Tourism Development Authority. Plus, as a downtown business owner, the city's work to get the main street completely redone and beautified is probably the best thing they have done for everybody in the city, because it is spectacular and it draws people here every day."
Furst and his wife moved to Washington in 2015 with the intention of finding a place to put down roots and eventually retire. While the small business support was integral in starting their inn and store, the appeal of Washington's amenities are keeping them around for the long-term.
"Our inn is 453 steps from our store, and everything that we enjoy is right here. There are plenty of restaurants to go out to, we have a little pontoon boat to go out on the river a lot, and we go and play golf at the beautiful Cypress Landing right across the river. My wife and I also both liked to cycle, and Inner Banks Outfitters is doing a great job in putting together routes," said Furst. "There's also a vibrant music scene here. There are so many great musicians, and you can go almost any night to a restaurant, and there'll be somebody with a guitar or something playing. It's such a cool, creative vibe."
The amenities concentrated in Downtown Washington also include the town's civic center, which hosts professional meetings and draws executives from all around the state.
Located within walking distance of downtown and the waterfront, the Washington Civic Center offers modern amenities and meeting rooms for companies looking to escape the board room for something a little more scenic. It features multiple meeting rooms to fit your needs, including a banquet hall and performance spaces. The exposed beams and natural light give the civic center charm that is hard to find in the ballroom of a chain hotel or a boardroom in an office.
"A big draw for the civic center is the waterfront," said Washington Civic Center event coordinator ReAnne Mayo. "Everything's within walking distance. It gets people out of the office or boardroom where they can stretch their legs."
The Civic Center has been a draw for businesses looking to get work done, but then transition quickly to an evening of entertainment. Recent renovations have brought new life to the building, including fiber-optic Wi-Fi. The space can serve groups ranging from 20 to 500 people with a staff dedicated to customer service.
Once the day's work is complete, it's just a short walk to popular restaurants like Bill's Hot Dog Stand or Down on Mainstreet. Mayo has noticed that the businesses that visit Washington come away with a clarity that just can't be found in more metropolitan areas.
"It's the aesthetics. When you look at the water it's very centering. We are all glued to our telephones and computers all day," said Mayo. "When you step outside and look at these old buildings, it kind of takes you back. You look at the water and you aren't thinking about your phone. It helps people re-center."
Places like Giddy-Up and the Civic Center prove that Little Washington is a place where you can conduct business in a laid-back, picturesque environment for a little "bleisure" – a combination of work and recreation. Additionally, the town provides all of the amenities that professionals want and need with an added backdrop of natural beauty to explore after work hours are over.
"It's really an ideal location for remote work, and the key component of having reliable internet is something we're working on and continuing to improve. Right now, we have so many natural amenities here where we can enjoy time on the river, walking, boating, fishing — just engaging and some of the natural beauty of the area," said Russell. "You have a lot of opportunities to get outside and explore the region, but there are still larger city amenities in close proximity. Being around all that natural beauty just lowers your stress level — it's not necessarily a slower pace, but a more relaxed pace. I think that definitely improves your quality of work and quality of life overall."
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