Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

Experience Old Town Warrenton's new board chair looks to foster cooperation

  • Updated
  • 0
photo_ft_news_John McAuliff NEW_20220111.jpg

John McAuliff

John McAuliff has a deep love for Old Town Warrenton — it’s where he grew up visiting his grandparents and where he now lives and makes his living. From his new position as board chairman of the Experience Old Town Warrenton nonprofit, he wants to make sure downtown is a vibrant place where people want to visit, work and live — and he wants to get the community’s input on the best way to do that.

Now 29 years old, the 2014 University of Richmond grad opened a bed and breakfast on Culpeper Street in 2017. The 1821 Chilton House has been in his family since the late 19th century; when his grandmother died five years ago, she asked him to keep the house in the family. Now he hosts guests there.

His business, of course, relies on Old Town being a desirable place to visit. “I’ve really spent my 20s focusing on making sure Warrenton is a good place to do business … making sure it’s an exciting and vibrant place to live and work,” he said. He’s been an active participant in that effort.

The Old Town Warrenton Gift Card, for instance, was his creation. He gives one to each guest who stays in the Chilton House, and the program has directed more than $20,000 to the participating businesses. McAuliff has also been included on various town committees over the years and has helped Experience Old Town Warrenton with its marketing; he’s served on the board for the past year.

The nature of McAuliff’s business gives him a unique perspective on what draws people to live, work and visit Old Town Warrenton. Since the Chilton House opened its doors to lodgers, he has welcomed more than 4,000 guests. Some of the reasons they come might be surprising.

EOTW shopping guide.tiff

Experience Old Town Warrenton created a "shopping guide" to encourage residents and visitors to spend money locally.

Weddings, for instance — whether at Ciao Bella on Ashby Street or at one of the area’s local wineries — are one significant driver of visitors to town, said McAuliff. He’s thrilled that businesses like Haute Cakes Pastry Shop (Fifth Street) and Something Old, Something New Bridal (Culpeper Street) have made their home in Old Town. “You could essentially plan your wedding here,” he said. “A lot of people’s first trip up here is attending someone’s wedding.”

Regardless of the particular reason someone decides to visit — and spend money — in Old Town, the “experience” part of the organization’s name is especially important to McAuliff. “We live in the Amazon era, where you’re not buying most of your stuff locally, so it’s about the experience,” he said.

He is quick to emphasize that his tenure as chairman will be about fostering a community conversation about which of those “experiences” is working, what isn’t and what creative ideas might make Old Town a place that draws new residents and visitors alike.

With the public’s help, he wants to focus on “reassessing what programs make sense in a post-pandemic world — and what doesn’t,” he said. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to think out of the box and be creative, he said, with lasting positive consequences.

photo_ft_news_gumdrop square-1_20201205.jpg

Scarlett, 8, hugs her 8-month-old brother, Isaac, as they talk to Santa Claus Dec. 5, 2020 at Gloria's Center for the Arts in Old Town Warrenton. Gum Drop Square is one of the most popular annual events hosted by Experience Old Town Warrenton

He especially praised the town government’s creativity during the pandemic, with previously unimaginable ideas like using parking spaces for outdoor dining proving to be widely popular. That in turn made the pandemic a net positive for many businesses downtown.

“Warrenton is a very different place than it was five years ago,” he said; The town is now much more open to creative ideas to draw visitors and retain businesses. "It’s just a well-managed town at this point.” Even during the height of the pandemic, his bed-and-breakfast was fully booked almost every weekend, a testament to what he says is a combination of good management and Old Town’s enduring charm.

McAuliff emphasized repeatedly that his goal is to foster a close relationship with the town government to form a sustainable model for post-pandemic vitality. Even as the town looks to expand its boundaries — discussions are ongoing among town and county officials to add 2.7 square miles to town limits — the historic downtown area will continue to attract visitors, business and the subsequent tax revenue the town government relies on.

For his part, Warrenton Mayor Carter Nevill said that McAuliff “will bring a great sense of cooperation” to the relationship between the nonprofit and the town government, noting McAuliff’s involvement on town committees. “Our goals are shared goals, and we’re stronger together,” said Nevill.

Reach Coy Ferrell at cferrell@fauquier.com

2020 was a year marked by hardships and challenges, but the Fauquier community has proven resilient. The Fauquier Times is honored to serve as your community companion. To say thank you for your continued support, we’d like to offer all our subscribers -- new or returning --

4 WEEKS FREE DIGITAL AND PRINT ACCESS.

We understand the importance of working to keep our community strong and connected. As we move forward together into 2021, it will take commitment, communication, creativity, and a strong connection with those who are most affected by the stories we cover.

We are dedicated to providing the reliable, local journalism you have come to expect. We are committed to serving you with renewed energy and growing resources. Let the Fauquier Times be your community companion throughout 2021, and for many years to come.

Subscribe

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

The future of Fauquier Times now depends on community support. Your donation will help us continue to improve our journalism through in-depth local news coverage and expanded reader engagement.

Keeping you connected to the Community. Find or Submit your local event here..