Tourism can provide an incredible economic boost, sure, but it can also put pressure on locals. This isn’t new news, we see how the rural places many Americans treat as playgrounds, and the workers who keep them running, suffer for it.
This is not meant to be a hit piece on tourists. In general, tourists not only bring much-needed funds into the area, they pack our stores and eateries, but they also infuse the town with life. Given the age and type of people that now inhabit Cape Charles, the tourists transform this mausoleum into a vibrant summer village. This is almost the only time of year we actually see young families and college-age folks out on the beach, enjoying the sun and the safe, family-friendly Cape Charles beach. This writer has personally met many very nice people, many with very young children, that truly love our beach and town. It is heart-warming to see whole families, from grandparents all the way down to the newest baby congregate under tents and splash around in the warm, shallow water.
That part is great. But, you cannot ignore the costs to the local community.
It is weird. For many locals, summer was something we looked forward to. Many now can’t wait for September and the gentle easing of crowds. Many have told us that they completely avoid Cape Charles during the tourist season, that they come into town and never recognize anyone they know. Locals have to ask, despite all the benefits of tourism, is the juice still worth the squeeze?
15 or 20 years ago, Cape Charles was not like this. Tourism did not exist, but a town filled with young families did. We all knew each other, and we would drop our kids off at Cape Charles Baptist for Friday Night Live, and use the opportunity for a fun date night at Kelly’s or the much-missed Cabana Bar at Aqua. Most of the kids went to the same schools, and all played together in the park. They entered new stages of life together, from pre-school to high school. But, time moves on, these kids are now college graduates, and now in the workforce.
In 2021 Cape Charles is a much different place. Houses are now fully renovated, super expensive, and designed as rental and Airbnb properties. There’s nothing left that the workforce can really afford. You can count the remaining families in town on one hand–most have been replaced by retirees.
Of course, with the additional light at Food Lion, the traffic outside of town on 13 can be horrendous on Saturdays. We have seen traffic backed up all the way to the Cheriton/Cherrystone traffic light. The days of grabbing the surfboard and heading the Virginia Beach Oceanfront are gone also. The wait times on the CBBT in summer peak can be 30 minutes to an hour–with a car breakdown or accident, well, just forget about it.
We are, of course, are being nostalgic…change is the default, not the exception; transformation is the reality of our world, from physical growth to economic progress. Novelty, in our case tourism, is an antidote to boredom and stagnation.
Looking at the state of our world, from Covid to the tragedy in Afghanistan, and inflation, nostalgia for the old Cape Charles is probably understandable. Nostalgic memories tend to focus on our relationships, which can comfort us during stressful times. The key is to not over-romanticize the past and become cynical and not move forward with our lives.
Falling back on our happy memories of old Cape Charles, nostalgia can be a way to harness the past and at the same time create hope for the future.