By ES HETHCOX
As Friday night in downtown Fredericksburg begins to ignite, tourists and Mary Washington students wander in and out of an old brick building on the corner of Caroline and Charlotte Street.
Each person has one goal in mind: to see what the city of Fredericksburg has to offer.
This building, filled with hundreds of brochures and maps of the surrounding area, is the Fredericksburg Visitor Center.
Once crossing the brick steps, a cheerful Sial King, travel counselor and happy employee of over 13 years, greets customers.
“My job is the guests,” she said with a smile. “If someone walks in with a problem, it’s my problem too.”
The Visitor Center has been a part of the downtown community for over 40 years and provides support for visitors and residents of the regions of Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and Stafford. With its doors open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 11 a.m to 5 p.m on Sundays, the Visitor Center is a convenient facility for the surrounding area.
Regional Manager Julie Perry said she believes the Visitor Center provides a broad source of information for people who are visiting the area.
“Our mission is to introduce visitors to the city, and ultimately, get them to return,” Perry said.
The Visitor Center offers ticket sales for horse-drawn carriage rides, which provide visitors and residents a personal tour of Fredericksburg’s 40 blocks of historic neighborhoods. Tickets are sold online as well as in person, $18 for adults and $9 for children.
Not only does the Visitor Center offer endless information regarding dining, sightseeing and history to visitors from all over the world, but it also represents the local University of Mary Washington student body.
The back of the Visitor Center holds a gallery full of art, all created by Mary Washington students. The first Friday of every month, the gallery is open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., giving the community a chance to see what local university students are creating.
“Mary Washington brings us a lot of business,” travel counselor James Gaston said. “Tour groups, parent weekends and graduation bring us lots of family members wanting to see the city where their child is living.”
The Visitor Center helps people from many different countries, all wanting to see what Fredericksburg has to offer.
“We have visitors from Germany, Italy, Soviet Union, you name it,” Gaston said. “The stories that people tell are what makes this job so unique. We always enjoy hearing them—if we have the time.”
But visitors from other countries aren’t the only people the Visitor Center provides service to.
“A majority of our job is giving directions to local residents,” King said with a laugh. “A lot of the people that walk through these doors are looking for how to get to Carl’s Ice Cream.”