Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turn on Those Lights

The nice weather is bringing out the tourists and just as I passed 12th and Market, what were they taking pictures of? Not Market East's "quaint Colonialism", but the Hard Rock guitar and the news feed outside Loews. 

History is our brand? Not everywhere, SCRUB. Tourists like shiny things. As soon as we stop struggling to convince Nebraskans that they have to appreciate our cobblestone streets and Steven Starr restaurants, the sooner we can just give them what they want: "authentic" Italian from Sbarro and $20 plastic busts of Benjamin Franklin.

We burden ourselves with the labor of insisting - even dictating - the tourist experience. The sad reality is most tourists don't care. And they're not going to care. You can't educate a revolving population of individuals that spend three days here once in their life. Try to do that and you'll make yourself crazy. Try to do that and you'll find yourself fighting to preserve the "historic brand" of Market East.

Most tourists want to see what they see in pictures and have dinner at a familiar restaurant. You're average tourist doesn't want an adventure, they want convenience. It's true we have a great restaurant scene, and the Foodies that come here know that. But they know exactly where to go and they have fun finding it.

Instead of shoving gourmet food down the throats of families from Phoenix who wouldn't know the difference between Olive Garden and Vitri, reserve it for those who appreciate it along the quaint cobblestone streets of Society Hill.

There is no shortage of opportunity for authenticity in Center City. Look around. Chestnut Street, Washington Square, and even Old City are home to plenty of vacant storefronts and undeveloped properties bound to become the next hot restaurant run by an Iron Chef.

Let Market East be what it is dying to be. Practical for us, bright and shiny for tourists, and a gold mine for the city. Given the excitement generated by that neon guitar, and then the dread as tourists turn to the east, I don't think SCRUB is going to win this one. It's just a matter of one of the Market East stakeholders making the first move and turning on the lights.

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