Archive for January, 2012

Sited Research-Williamsburg Antique Mall

It took me a little while to decide where to visit in Williamsburg for my sited research assignment.  I first considered an outdoor space I’d been curious about visiting for many years, but I found out when I did a preliminary internet search that it had closed – permanently.  Enter Plan B.  I Googled: “Places to visit in Williamsburg” and came across the Williamsburg Antique Mall in Lightfoot, Virginia.  Ah, ha! I thought to myself, that would be a perfect spot for me to visit since I like antiques, and it has a tearoom!  So, after viewing their short video online, off I went on the 24 mile, 36 minute drive from my house in Yorktown.

Built in 1997 expressly as an antique mall, the location of the building at 500 Lightfoot Road is not easy to find.  As a matter of fact it is situated out-of-sight behind other businesses in Lightfoot Crossing II.  Despite a good sized Williamsburg Antiques Mall roadside sign, it is easy to overshoot the entrance.  I missed it and turned into the parking lot in front of the other stores before I saw the way to the mall marked with numerous small signs stuck in the grass ways directing customers to the rear of the roadside businesses.  I had never noticed
the place or any signage when driving by in the past, which is the reason I had never been there before.  But, no mind about that, I soon discovered a well-hidden treasure at the end of a short black-topped road!

Upon approaching the building across the well kept medium sized parking area, it’s easy to notice that the mall building is a very large, immaculately kept, one-story prefab structure painted in a honey beige color with dark red trim.  The landscaping is neat including the trees, now bare in January, that provide ample shade to the parking lot.  The signage over the door is legible and well maintained.  Smaller signs indicate that the business welcomes well-behaved pets!  They also let people know that the facility is handicap accessible.  A sign beside the door indicates that backpacks and bags are not allowed inside the building.

More than a few thoughts crossed my mind as I read the signs and considered the business owners’ commitment to customer service and the culture of their business as a whole.  First, they understand the importance of “curb appeal” and seem sensitive to people’s perception that antique malls are “junky” places.  Also, when I checked their website before my visit it indicated that the facility was well lit and organized, and had call buttons for customer assistance.  Second, they are aware that since the area is popular with tourists some people will have their pets with them when travelling.  Third, the issue of the mall being handicap accessible was abundantly reinforced by the signage before entering the building and once inside by the folded wheelchair clearly visible right by the entry door under a sign indicating the chair is available for customer convenience.  Finally, the sign requesting no backpacks or bags suggests that they’ve had trouble in the past with theft and want to make it difficult for people to steal items undetected.  Since they welcome bus tours which are frequently taken by either school age or older people, they most likely have experience with the shopping habits of a wide range of ages.  They most likely are attuned to issues of crowd control and theft, as well as, the comfort needs of older customers.  By all appearances the business is focused on meeting the needs of its customers and selling quality antique merchandise in a clean and comfortable atmosphere.

When I arrived at about 11:00 a.m. on Monday morning the mall had been open for an hour and there were eighteen cars in the parking lot.  Inside there were three “walkers”, booth owners/clerks who walk the mall to assist you if you need it, and two cashiers at the main counter who also helped with jewelry sales from the cases which surround them.  Upon entering the building I was immediately greeted with a friendly “hello” and asked if I’d ever visited the mall before.  I took that moment to say that I had not and then introduced myself to the two female clerks behind counter.  I indicated that I am a William and Mary student working on a project and would be walking around and writing down my observations of the mall.  They responded positively and one remembered having had another student visit in the past for a similar reason. The store had been open for about an hour and besides me and the sales staff had mostly female customers over sixty years old browsing around.

I stood by the entrance for awhile and listened to the background music playing in the store and the conversations around me.  The music was a mix of classical and big band pieces; nothing with lyrics or later than the 50s.  This “oldies” mix fit the antique theme of the items on display, but also fit the age of most of the clientele.  I recognized some of the tunes as “swing” pieces.  A couple of the sales women discussed how much they liked having a birdfeeder and liked birdfeeders in general.  Another woman commented after catching a whiff of someone’s smoky-smelling clothing that she never realized how much second-hand smoke offended her until she quit smoking.  I passed the next two hours strolling through the building, making observations, chatting with a few people and browsing and felt very comfortable.

As I started browsing more people arrived, mostly female, a couple of men with their wives, and a couple of teenage boys with their mothers.  A couple of middle-aged women and a middle-aged man were there with their mothers as well as a family visiting Williamsburg together from the Harrisonburg and Lynchburg areas of Virginia.   One man there with his wife spent about fifteen minutes talking on his cell phone to someone who must be a colleague.  He was discussing some kind of project they were working on a Newport News Shipbuilding and glad that whatever it was they were doing didn’t require them on-site to do the job.  A short time later I spoke to the family visiting from Harrisonburg and Lynchburg because they noticed me taking notes.  I told them about my project.  Before that I overheard the women discussing a painting they saw and one saying she was looking for a print with two bluebirds in it.  The men in the group were sort of strolling around not as engaged as the women in browsing.  A couple of people browsed around by themselves.  One woman got into a tiff with her adult son about him not letting her take time to look around.   She was determined to get in a good visit!

Most people worked the space in order beginning on the left side of the building then went up and down the rows, which I did as well.  I noticed that people who had been there before started somewhere more in the middle rows.

The color scheme inside the building is neutral with the exception of the tearoom which is a wallpapered in a colored toile pattern of bright green. The space is accented with cheerful touches of yellow and blue.  The floors in the mall are a mixture; the aisles are painted concrete in a soft mauve color and the side areas where displays are set up are mostly carpeted with short-napped commercial carpeting.  Every area is immaculately maintained.  Beyond the entrance area where the displays begin in five long rows of eleven tall glass and metal locked display cases full of memorabilia standing side-by-side in rows, are more rows of displays set up off the main aisle that runs parallel to the checkout counter.  The areas along the outer walls are hung with painted peg holed wall board for hanging merchandise on hooks.  The place is huge; boasting 400 dealer spaces in forty-five thousand square feet.  Some
displays are in cases like I described; others are simple bookcases set-up around open floor space.  Nearly every booth is full of merchandise; I saw only two empty booth spots in the areas where I walked.

I was disappointed to learn that the tea room I was so excited to visit was closed on Mondays.  It is located to the right of the checkout near the exit area which is adjacent to the entrance area.  As a matter of fact the checkout stretches out across the width of entrance and exit doors on the other side of a wall from the doors so that the beginning of the display areas is opposite the tea room to the right of the checkout.  The tea room is also located near the restrooms which are located down a short hallway.

I loved strolling down the aisles.  In two hours I only saw half of what was there.  The array of items is amazing!  There is jewelry, china and crystal as might be expected, but there are also antique toys of every description.  There are train sets, and Western dolls of cowboys, cowgirls and Indians, and vinyl headed hand puppets, also fine Victorian sewing notions, and souvenirs of every description.  I saw lots of vintage clothing as well as vintage fabrics all carefully washed, cut, bagged and ready for sewing projects.  Vintage furs are also available.  There are sports trading cards, antique magnifying glasses and antique bottles of “cures” and toiletries.  There is also a great deal of wooden furniture.  Antique prints and photographs are abundant going back to the Civil War as is war memorabilia.

It is overwhelming to see so many items in one place marking the rising tide of consumerism that washed over the United States since industrialization began.  I am happy that some people experience the value of recycling things when they buy antiques and vintage items at places like the Williamsburg Antique Mall.  One vendor even has a sign hanging in her booth that says, “Support recycling, buy antiques.”  I have to agree!

“Aging-in” in the 21st century

I had to go into work today and am sorry to be posting this late.  My idea for a research project is to look at how retiring “in place” at one’s residence as opposed to relocating has become a hot topic for the “baby boomer” generation for themselves as well as for their parents.  I am interested in researching how staying in place at home after retiring has changed over time for residents of Williamsburg since WWII.  I plan on looking at how “boomers” and their parents are managing retirement living decisions in the 21st century.  How has planning for staying at home after retirement changed as individuals are living longer?  In particular in what ways are retirees managing the higher cost of living, particularly in areas of medical care and housing, which may not have been considered by the previous generation who had family available to assist them?  Is the “independent generation” going to be able to remain at home with a better quality of living than their parents/grandparents?  What accommodations will be or have been made by individuals and communities to prepare for them?

I realize that I may have to narrow this even more, but I am inspired by recent articles in the Daily Press, AARP and the New York Times which address the issue of “aging-in”.  It’s not a new idea, but the way in which people are thinking about it is.  I want to find out what they are thinking about and whether some have been successful and happy with their plan.

Veteran’s In Williamsburg

When I moved to Williamsburg in 2008, my spouse also joined the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.  He was by far the youngest member, as everyone else was retired.  From my interactions with this group, I’ve become interested in the large retired veteran population in the Williamsburg area.  One question, then, concerns what the veteran numbers actually look like here in comparison to other areas.

In addition, I’ve also become aware of retired communities in the Williamsburg area that require veteran and/or federal employee status to join.  One such place is called the Patriots Colony.  It is here that I would like to spend the most of my time interviewing, doing research, and so forth.  I would like to know why retirees choose exclusive communities?  How their expectations comport with their current situation?  The business model behind exclusive communities … and so forth.

Project Proposal I: Independent Living Communities in Williamsburg

In light of recent political events nationally, (namely the President GOP debates and upcoming election) the concept of “independent living” and “independence” have been circling in the minds of many in this country. It is my goal in my research project to focus on independent living communities within Williamsburg, as an active participant observer within one of these communities.

I would like to define “independence” from the point of view of people living within these communities. What does it mean to them to be living an “independent life?” How much do they rely on their community board, managers and directors? How do they feel apart of their community? What went into the decision to live at an independent, retirement community?

As of right now, my research consists of only looking at their websites, mission statements, direction of activities, continuing care and accessibility for senior citizens. My next step is to narrow down my list, select three places to “interview” at, preferably with an activities director to see how I can become involved at the chosen independent living community, and gather oral histories from members of these communities.

The list I have gathered (as of this afternoon) for possible retirement, independent living communities is:

Williamsburg Landing

Brookdale Senior Community – Chambrel at Williamsburg

WindsorMeade Community

The Settlement at Powhatan Creek

Colonial Heritage

The kind of broad questions I will be asking these members are:

Geographic: Where are these retirees coming from? (I believe I will find that many living in these retirement communities are not originally from the Williamsburg area); What drew people to the locale of Williamsburg? Had they been there before? Why did they want to make a shift from where they lived to an independent living community? Are there activities/events that involve people within the retirement community in the Williamsburg community?

The Culture: What kind of assistance does an independent, living community offer? Do you feel that having others around a similar age provides a support system?

Define: What does “independent” mean to you? What expectations do you have for those on the board of directors at your retirement community? To what extent do you allow a management system to be involved in your daily/overall lifestyle?

I am an anthropology major at the school and hope to bring an ethnographic perspective to my research, as a participant observer and interviewer in this project. I have also spent time with my grandparents in their independent, retirement community in Dana Point, California (The Fountains), and plan on using my knowledge and background to compare to those in Williamsburg. It is my goal to not only define independent, retirement living in Williamsburg, butto also place it within a national context.

Megan Berke

The Role of the Fraternal Organization-Project Proposal 1

The idea for my project came from my three and a half years of working at a Knights of Columbus back home. Though I worked mostly events that were attended by non-members, I also had the opportunity to see who attends Knights of Columbus frequently. I began to notice that many of the members of the Knights of Columbus as well as the other fraternal organizations that held events there were older and most likely retired. This experience inspired me to take a look at the fraternal organizations in Williamsburg and their effect on the retirement community. We see evidence of these institutions all the time through their volunteer projects, their sponsorships of our sports teams and events, and the presence of their meetings and meetinghouses. However, I’m curious to see how retired people use and participate in these organizations and how they affect their lives, the retirement community, and the city of Williamsburg as a whole.

I plan to address some, if not all, of these research questions in my project:

1. Are the number of fraternal organizations in Williamsburg more, less, or the same as in other towns in the country? Is the number similar to other towns that are considered to be “retirement communities” (such as in Florida or Arizona)?

2. What are the demographics of the retired people who are members of these fraternal organizations (in terms of race, social class, political affiliation, and length of time spent in Williamsburg)?  What do these demographics reveal about the retirement community in Williamsburg?

3. What is the draw of these organizations for retired people? Is it a factor in a retiree’s decision to move to Williamsburg?

4. How long have these organizations been present in Williamsburg? How has the membership base changed over time (if at all)?

5. Is there any tension between the members of these organizations and the rest of the community? Williamsburg has both an upper-class and lower-class population so is that evident in these organizations?

6. How much do retirees participate in these types of activities? Is it more likely to see them as officers of the organization or as general members? If a certain side is the case, why?

In terms of preliminary work, I have looked up which fraternal organizations exist in Williamsburg and found 12 that either meet or have headquarters here (including some with multiple chapters) and two more where the closest meeting location is in Newport News. Unless I find out that Williamsburg retirees frequent the clubs in Newport News, I will stick to the ones in Williamsburg. However, very few of the organizations have up-to-date websites which might affect the finding of contacts for oral histories. Hopefully, I can sit in on some meetings or find people to interview in some other way.

The LGBTIQ community in retirement

For my WDP project, I have chosen to investigate the LGBTIQ community in retirement.  Since I am an active member of the W&M Lambda Alliance, and have a passion for helping establish a more tolerable and accepting environment on campus, this topic resonates strongly with my interests. I hope to broaden my understanding of the issues, if any, non-heterosexual retirement-aged people face in Williamsburg, and expose some truths about their lives to anyone interested in reading this project.

I approach this topic from an objective point of view, since I have no concrete ties to the people or city of Williamsburg, however, I come with presuppositions of what kinds of attitudes to expect in a relatively small, predominantly conservative city. Upon doing some preliminary research on the experience of the LGBTIQ community in retirement nation-wide, I learned that many LGBTIQ individuals grow old without the support of children or extended family members are twice as likely to live alone, according to SAGE.  I looked at a few reports finding that nursing homes often fail to protect gays and lesbians from hostile treatment by staff or other patients.  Considering this is a contentious issues within the community, I will have be careful to respect anonymity and gain the trust and confidence of interviewees to present this matter as candidly as possible.  Finding these interviewees may prove to be easier than I initially thought.  After meeting with Sarah and David, I have a few potential contacts and spaces to visit, including local visible individuals, the Unitarian church, and William and Mary students who graduated from local high schools.  Moreover, I thought about writing a request for LGBTIQ identified individuals to contribute to this project in the Virginia Gazette.  Sarah mentioned in class that this has been done before and the student received a negative response from a community member.  Even if I don’t get any viable responses, it could be interesting to see if there is any backlash to such a study.

In a society where many of the baby boomer generation now in retirement grew up being taught that gay people are perverts or criminals, I imagine the atmosphere in some, if not most, retirement communities is still crudely homophobic.  This idea has shaped a few research questions:

Why choose Williamsburg as a retirement destination? Upon doing some research, I found that there is a new movement to establish gay-friendly, spaces of tolerance where people can retire comfortably. So why not go to a place like RainbowVision (one of the first established retirement communities in the country to serve gays and lesbians)?

Is there a gathering spot for the sexually different?  If so, are these gatherings visible or are they masked as something else? Similarly, is there an underground sexual subculture (women and men consciously departing from the norm and creating a social scene that nurtures their sense of identity)?  Conversely, do LGBTIQ individuals live ‘out’ lives in these communities, whether this means holding hands in public or making decisions about each other’s end-of-life health care.  If so, are they treated with hostility or pressured to go back into the closet? Do they feel unsafe?

Are retirees satisfied with their state/local policies governing same-sex issues? Do they hope to change the status quo in Virginia?

Do retirees have family that visit or stay in regular contact with?

What are the supportive institutions such as local churches and the College and how do they respond to LBBTIQ issues within the retirement communities?

These are just a few initial questions swimming in my head.  Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated!

Retirement and the American Dream

When thinking about retirement, we all picture happy, energetic, elderly people walking around a man-made lake while smiling and holding hands. In our minds, these retirees spend their mornings reading the paper then make their way out into the world where they play bridge or golf. Their grandchildren come to visit them and they are never lonely and never want for anything. While living in Williamsburg, we come across retirement communities that offer these amenities to their residents; but how many people actually live in these kinds of communities? We might see retirement as an idealized state of being, meant to be a time of relaxation after years of hard work, but many people do not live in these conditions. I am not saying that nursing homes that do not offer these amenities are bad; I am simply stating there is a schism between our ideal for retirement and the actuality.

I hope through my research to answer a few main questions:

1. How much is retirement a part of the American Dream?

2. Are retirement communities in Williamsburg affordable to the average American?

3. Has the influx of money into Williamsburg been caused by wealthier retirees entering the community?

4. What are the options for the average American if these communities are not affordable?

5. Does living in a retirement heavy area inflate the cost of retirement living?

I specifically hope to focus on Medicare and Medicaid funded communities such as Envoy of Williamsburg, a nursing and rehabilitation center on South Mount Vernon Ave. I want to learn what the residents of these communities expected from their retirement and whether these expectations have been met. I hope to find out the economic backgrounds of both residents in government funded homes and in privately funded communities and deduce the class level associated with the privately funded communities.

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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