Staffer Harry Kollatz Jr. worked at the RMCVB visitor desk within the Convention Center and at the airport in February. The RMCVB also has a mobile information van. Photo by Ash Daniel
Judy Arenstein is a 20-year RMCVB tourist counselor and perhaps the first true Richmonder some tourists meet fresh off the plane.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you'll find her behind the tourists' info desk at the Richmond International Airport. She's a Richmond native, went to Thomas Jefferson High School and attended Richmond Professional Institute (precursor to Virginia Commonwealth University), before finishing her degree at the University of Georgia and starting her career as a social worker and probation officer. She lives in the new urbanism community of Rocketts Landing in the city's East End with a view of the river and great restaurants. She loves the city and talking about it.
Arenstein observes, "One way things have changed especially in the past 10 years is, people were flying in for Williamsburg. They weren't interested in Richmond unless they had an extra day. Then somebody woke up and said, ‘Oh, we're on a river!' Which I've been saying for years. And they started promoting that." People want maps, despite GPS, because they like to see where they're going. Due to online reservations, though, she rarely books hotel rooms as once she did, for a $3 commission. Up walks Gerard Krewer, from Woodbine, Ga. He's attending the Biological Farming Conference. Not a first-timer to the region due to previous work with Virginia State University, Krewer usually stays in Petersburg. This time he has a hotel room in the Koger Center South, and he'd like to take advantage of its proximity to downtown Richmond. Krewer didn't know that the White House of the Confederacy still stands, or that parts of the Tredegar Iron Works survived, too. Richmond unfolded in his eyes. He possesses a family connection to the Civil War battlefields. His great-great-grandfather convalesced at Richmond's Chimborazo Hospital, then the world's largest, after suffering wounds at Cedar Creek. The unusual Chimborazo name also is familiar to Colombian native Rafael Lopez, who now lives and works in Washington, D.C. He strides into the downtown visitor center on a misty Saturday during LEGO KidsFest. But he's not here for the colorful little bricks. He knows Richmond is historic, having felt the pull of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln film, and feels there's something more. Counselor Anne Thorn, a 19-year veteran, tries to first gauge his interests to give him good suggestions. Off-handedly, she mentions Chimborazo and the Civil War medical museum. His eyebrows raise. "Chimborazo!" he says. "This is a name from my part of the world." Chimborazo, for many people, is an inactive volcano in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. It's possible that some traveling wag in the 19th century named Richmond's great hill. The park with a city view also has collected an odd assortment of objects: a miniature Statue of Liberty installed by the Boy Scouts at the height of the 1950s Cold War and a big rock hauled from Varina as the legendary stone under which either Powhatan was buried or the one where John Smith would have been executed had not Pocahontas intervened. Lopez nods, smiles: This is getting interesting. Thorn also addresses Monument Avenue. "Unlike Gettysburg, where monuments are on the battlefield, property owners used these statues as development gimmicks." This amuses Lopez. She continues, "So, here are Richmonders, showing that we're progressing forward after the war, with their new mansions, while looking back into the past at the same time." Stocked up on maps and information, Lopez, nodding, goes off into the chilly day to begin his tailored Richmond experience.