National Park Service Can’t Catch a Break at Gettysburg

I just finished reading, and got quite a laugh from, a news item posted over on Eric Wittenberg’s site.  Apparently, small business owners in Gettysburg are blaming their poor summer season on the NPS’s new visitor center which they believe has moved potential customers away from Steinwehr Avenue.  The reasoning is absolutely hysterical:

But when tourism season kicked off in May, many Steinwehr business
owners wouldn’t say whether they expected the visitor center’s move to
negatively impact the street. Some even said they felt the potential
impact had been overestimated.

At the time, the head of the Steinwehr Avenue Business Alliance said it was “too early to tell.”  But earlier this week, Tom Crist said there’s evidence the original fears were well-founded.  In fact, he attributed this year’s slow business to two reasons –
the state of the economy and the opening of the new visitor center

Now, let’s just slow down here.  What evidence is there to suggest that the VC is hurting downtown businesses and how exactly is the Steinweher Avenue Business Alliance distinguishing between the impact of the VC as opposed to broader concerns having to do with the fact of high gas prices and a slow economy?  First, John Latschar is criticized for removing the Electric Map and now he is being blamed for fewer shoppers in the downtown area.   What’s next, we blame him for the outcome of the battle?  It’s funny how the NPS has gone from victim during the casino debate to the aggressor. 

The NPS’s primary responsibility is to interpret the battlefield for its visitors.   If it can be demonstrated that the move is hurting downtown businesses than it is the city’s responsibility to address the problem and invest in its infrastructure. 

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10 comments… add one
  • Jarret Aug 5, 2008 @ 20:43

    Hey Kevin,

    I was just in Gettysburg this past weekend. The new Visitor’s Center is fantastic (it actually talks about the war’s politics!), and I can say that there is nothing at the center that would deter people from the town because its hardly out in the middle of no-where and the cafe is way over-priced. Gas prices explain why it wasn’t all that crowded.

    – Jarret

  • Tim Abbott Aug 5, 2008 @ 15:08

    If both the VC and the stores on Steinwaher Ave are offering crap, how will I know where to go to get my Black Velvet (in that slow southern style) portrait of Robert E Lee? Sheesh, let’s not make it too hard for the consumer.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 5, 2008 @ 6:13

    Tom, — Nice to hear from you and I hope you are doing well. I appreciate the comment, but I am still not sure what you mean when you say: “Remember it is not a NPS building or venture, the NPS is just a partner.” Doesn’t that make this an NPS venture? Whatever the distinction amounts to it is interesting that the good people of Gettysburg don’t seem to making it. Thanks again.

  • matthew mckeon Aug 4, 2008 @ 22:37

    I love that crap actually. I got a t shirt so garish I don’t dare wear it in public.

    How much does the NPS realize from its concessions in the park? I have no idea. Do they get part of the take, or rent the space to a contractor for a fee?

  • Tom Clemens Aug 4, 2008 @ 22:17

    I’m no Gettysburg authority, and haven’t seen the new VC, but I think you need to make a distinction between John L and hte NPS and the company that built and is running the new VC. Remember it is not a NPS building or venture, the NPS is just a partner. To pay off the, what is it now, 125 Mil, cost of the building, etc. they need to make a profit, lots it. Therefore they sell “crap” at the VC because the profit margin is much higher than on books. (I am on the board of the Antietam bookstore and can verify that statement if anyone wants to know.) So their sales of “crap” probably does cut into sales of Steinwher Ave merchants. In my myopic view of Gettysburg, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people! And if the VC people go under too so much the better, the NPS will still get the building.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2008 @ 21:41

    I agree with you that it’s all crap and has nothing to do with battlefield interpretation, but if it brings the NPS more funds to work with than I am all for it.

  • Matt McKeon Aug 4, 2008 @ 21:28

    The VC is selling food, T-shirts, toy cannons and pictures of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, suitable for framing. That’s godawful crap that the downtown shops are selling, which is what they’re beefing about, the giftshop and cafeteria have first crack at the tourist dollar. That’s what in competition for visitors mean.

    What the souvenirs in the giftshop have to do with interpreting the battlefield beats me.

    Of course, why should I care if some giftshop owner downtown has a bad year?

  • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2008 @ 20:39

    Good point Brooks.

    Matt, — I don’t know what it means for the VC to be in competition with the town for visitors. After all, the business depend on the battlefield for their visitors. As for the bookstore I could care less that they sell popular titles as opposed to the depth that used to define their offerings. We can purchase any book online so why does it matter what the battlefield chooses to sell? If the VC can make more money selling Civil War toy soldiers as opposed to books on the Wheatfield than so be it.

  • Matt McKeon Aug 4, 2008 @ 20:08

    Actually, I thought the same thing when I visited Gettysburg this April, that the new VC would be a Walmart competing with the businesses downtown. I don’t know if the numbers bear that out, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    The VC gift shops have a lot of crappy stuff at top prices, and I assume the downtown shops have similar crappy stuff at slightly more reasonable prices.

  • Brooks Simpson Aug 4, 2008 @ 18:55

    “What’s next, we blame him for the outcome of the battle?”

    Well, don’t you think Gettysburg would draw more people if the Confederates had won?

    And just think of the battle art …

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