Spotlight

Spotlight

The sway of southern charm - Little Washington's unique hospitality

Posted June 11, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT

Downtown Washington, N.C., is home to Rachel K's Bakery. (Photo Courtesy of Washington Tourism Development Authority)

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

"Charming" is just one adjective commonly used to describe the quaint city of Washington, N.C. The town is known by visitors for its historic downtown, unique shops and restaurants, and abundant waterfront recreational opportunities.

But what really gives Little Washington its charm is the characteristic hospitality of its people.

John Butler moved to Little Washington from Washington, D.C. after first visiting two years prior. Now the co-owner of the Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast Inn and the Belle of Washington cruise boat, for Butler, it was the people who sold him on the move.

"Everyone was so nice and friendly. It's a real 'casserole community' – the type of place that binds together," Butler explained. "With a lot of small towns, if you're new, you wonder if you're joining as part of the fabric of the quilt, or if you're just going to be looking at the quilt from afar. But Washington embraces different kinds of people and creates this community of all different types. There's a place for you and a level of quirkiness that gives it a lot of individuality."

"It's just a very friendly, social town," added Virginia Finnerty, owner of the Pamlico House Bed and Breakfast and a member of the Washington City Council. "People are up to take the time to invite each other to their homes and entertain."

That welcoming atmosphere extends to visitors as well as residents, which is a rare perk for out-of-towners looking for a home away from home.

"I've had my guests run into locals, and then I run into my guests at a party, because the locals invited them to the party," Finnerty laughed.

Speaking of parties, Finnerty hosts an annual Academy Awards watch party at the Pamlico House every awards season. It's a tradition she's carried on from her time in California, which is where she moved from when she arrived in Washington in 2010.

"When I left California, I continued it, because I enjoyed it so much. When I moved here, the Oscars were going to happen less than a month after I moved. I thought, 'Hey, this year, I'm not going to be able to have my Oscar party,' because I didn't feel I knew enough people. But I decided, what the heck – I'll just invite some neighbors," Finnerty recalled. "I had like 35 people show up for my Oscars party, and it has been like that ever since."

Finnerty came to Washington with a dream of opening a bed and breakfast, and just had a "gut feeling" about it. When a realtor showed her the Pamlico House Bed and Breakfast was for sale, Finnerty knew almost instantly that this was the opportunity she had been searching for.

The previous owners still lived in town, so she called them up to get the scoop. After they told her what a wonderful experience it had been to run it, Finnerty was sold.

This welcoming, supportive and social community environment extends into businesses beyond the hospitality industry, which is important for a town that prides itself on the number of small businesses and family-owned shops.

The historic downtown showcases a variety of storefronts ranging from luxury clothing boutiques and gift stores selling marine-themed trinkets, to artists' studios, galleries and custom framers. The restaurants lining the boardwalk and main street include options of all types, from a much-loved bakery to a newly opened high-end eatery (and soon distillery).

For small businesses like a bed and breakfast to be successful, it takes a community willing and able to lend support and encouragement along the way.

"Everyone has a 'can-do' attitude," Butler said. "If you have a business idea, the response is, 'That's an awesome idea, if you're passionate about it, how do we make that happen.' No man is an island here. There is always someone around to lift you up. This community doesn't want you to fail and will bond together to help."

"If you're looking [to be] surrounded by friendly people that are willing to go out of their way to be nice to you and help you, this is the place to live," Finnerty added. "It's very affordable, and there's this quality here. It's a really warm and fuzzy place to live in."

The neighborly vibe of Washington also has businesses in the area collaborating.

For example, The Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast Inn is launching a partnership with the Contemporary Art Exchange – a new gallery in town – by bringing in artists and re-designing the first floor of the inn. Their idea is to display the gallery's modern art in situ to help folks looking to buy, to better imagine their purchases in an actual home environment.

"Everyone's dreams are big dreams in a small town," Butler explained. "It's about finding room for everyone to grow those dreams."

As a waterfront town that was built on shipping, Washington's history is rooted in welcoming newcomers of all types – whether they're just passing through or putting down new roots. All in all, it's hard to deny the sway of Washington's southern charm, which is reflected in its friendly locals and its distinctive hospitality.

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