Greeting Visitors in Amherst

They’ve come from all over the world to search for a college, on a pilgrimage to Emily’s home, for leaf peeping or to see friends and family. Or sometimes they’ve come just to visit Amherst because they’d heard great things about us.

We are pleased to greet them at the Amherst Visitor Information Center and welcome them to our community. Young, old, foreign and local, we are able to offer something to everyone, including water for dogs.

The visitor center has been open to the public since January. However, it wasn’t until this spring and summer that we started having a steady stream of people coming in to get a map, ask for restaurant suggestions or to chat about what they might see and do.

There was the lovely mother and daughter from Germany fulfilling a lifelong dream to visit the Emily Dickinson Homestead together. There was the multitude of eager college-bound young people with dedicated families checking out all the options in Amherst. There was the international student who had just arrived in the United States and was feeling a bit nervous in her new environment. All were interesting, fun to meet and came with thought-provoking stories.

We’ve also had lots of hikers and bikers! We gave out hundreds of maps of downtown indicating our fabulous parks and gardens as well as town of Amherst conservation land and trails, where to catch the Norwottuck bike path and the best route through our Amherst Center Cultural District.

We’ve also had a wild variety of questions. For the most part they were answerable. Where is the bus stop? Easy. Which way to UMass? Another easy one. Which way to Amherst College? Really easy one — we just had to point.

Some were harder such as can you “fix” this parking ticket? Sadly, no. Do you have a public restroom? No again, but try that big stone building across the common. Others were simply out there and we were speechless.

There also have been some very funny and heartwarming interactions with visitors. There was the senior waiting for the Peter Pan bus who wondered if she could just sit where it was warmer. Sure thing. There was the harried parent who had driven hours to visit the colleges and gotten herself turned in a complete circle trying to hit the road home. Pennsylvania? Let me look that up for you. Or the parent whose dog leash was tangled in the wheel of her stroller. Couldn’t completely untangle that one. Or the time that the BID marketing director thought someone came in through the open door on a beautiful day but didn’t see anything until she noticed the little dog sitting quietly by her desk.

All are interesting, fun and enlivening to a work day. I truly have been enjoying all the people I’ve gotten to meet and chat with, and the places I’ve learned about and the reasons why people ended up in the Amherst Visitor Information Center.

In all of that, one thing in particular sticks out to me. That’s the number of people who came in because they are looking to move to the area. Some are retired and downsizing or moving out of a city, some have been recently hired locally and many are alumni coming back to the Valley that they loved as a college student.

What I’ve learned from all of this is how powerful offering information, a cheerful greeting and a bit of your time can be to people who are in a new place wanting to feel comfortable and welcome. It’s really pretty easy and I believe it has been a huge benefit for our downtown and community.

With our office mates, the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, we look forward to greeting one and all whether two legged, four-legged, winged or otherwise. Please come by and say hi!

Sarah la Cour, of Amherst, is executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.