I’m a Watertownian. Born and raised. Other than a few blips on the radar where I left the community to pursue my education, Watertown has been my home. I spent decades in the same community, not really looking around anymore because I assumed I knew all that there was to see.
I spent 13 years commuting to Pewaukee for work. In 2016, fate delivered me to the doors of the Watertown Area Chamber of Commerce where I was hired as the Tourism Manager. I thought I knew all there was to know about a town I had lived in for over 35 years, and I was excited to flex that knowledge. What I didn’t know is that perspective is everything, and viewing my city as a tourist rather than a resident was going to open my eyes to a community that I didn’t even know existed.
I started the job in November, which is when preparations are being made for the following year. Tourism guides are created, marketing calendars are prepped, and budgets are decided on. It is a lot of information gathering, which is exactly what I needed to get a quick education on my own city.
Events are an important part of tourism, and I was shocked to see the number of events Watertown holds. Could that be right? Could we possible hold nearly 100 public events? Music festivals, parades, theatrical productions, and more were jumping out at me from the organized excel doc. I was aware of most of the events, but seeing them all together gave me a real sense of pride. My hometown put on quite the show, year-round!
Further research into local shopping destinations taught me that Keck’s Furniture in Watertown is the oldest furniture store in the state of Wisconsin. Impressive. I also learned that Kraemer Wisconsin Cheese sells and ships more than 500,000 pounds of premium cheese and cheese products each year all over the world! It was much the same story from Berres Brothers Coffee Roasters – shipping their coffee around the world and providing tours of their facility, bringing visitors from near and far. I also noticed that our Main Street is a staggering nine-blocks long, and is home to shops and restaurants that have been in business for decades. Boutique clothing and gifts at Ava’s a posh boutique, The Chic Boutique, and Hometown Pharmacy. Fine jewelry at Bradow Jewelers. Wedding gowns and formal wear at Sandra D’s Bridal Boutique. Wine, gifts, and floral at Draeger’s Floral. The most eclectic and unusual gifts at Far Horizons Imports. New and used books at Literatus & Co. The perfect pair of shoes at Brown’s Shoe, Co. Antiques and collectibles at Clara’s Antiques and recently Barn Owls Antiques and Treasures. Of course you can’t mention Watertown without talking about Zwieg’s Grill and their award for having one of the 101 Best Burgers in America. And then there’s Mullen’s Dairy Bar with their incomparable homemade ice cream. These are all businesses I was well aware of, yet I never appreciated that they are a destination! One of the top reasons people travel is to experience unique shopping and good food.
What else had I been missing in Watertown? Well, it’s well known that we are home to the Octagon House Museum and America’s First Kindergarten, but I never realized that the museum welcomes over 4,000 visitors a year from all over the world. I also didn’t know that Watertown has five national historic districts, with walking tours available for the public to enjoy. I took the tours myself and was fascinated to learn so much about Watertown history, and the pioneers that settled in the city.
Sadly, I had been missing out on all the river has to offer. The Rock River flows throughout Watertown, and I have always enjoyed the views. But there is so much more to enjoy! I kayak, I fish, and I paddle board. I love river life, and encourage all of our visitors to get on the water.
And how many times did I go to Skate Express Family Roller Rink, The Towne Cinema, Watertown Bowl, and more recently indoor axe throwing at Kiss My Axe? Those activities have always been enjoyable, but it took conversations with visitors to realize what a true asset they are to the city.
And then there are the photo ops. Not only does Watertown provide a backdrop of events to photograph, but the city itself is beautiful. We boast over 30 parks on over 300 acres, and take great care to fill the city with an abundance of flowers and art. I take thousands of pictures each year for social media, websites, and print materials. Viewing your city through the lens of a camera is a gift. The smiles of people enjoying our festivals, the elegance of a plane landing at our airport, and catching a glimpse of the eagles that live along the river are only a few examples.
I married a Watertownian and we are raising our kids in Watertown. My current viewpoint has opened my husband’s eyes to our many amenities. We love participating in the many fun runs, attending our massive Fourth of July parade, enjoying festivals in our beautiful parks, and hiking and biking our nature-filled trails. We have traveled the world, and yet we have found gems in our city that we haven’t found anywhere else.
When I look around my city through the eyes of a tourist, the murals and art installations are a little brighter, the events are more joyful, and the term “shop small” hits a little different.
Covid has turned the world of tourism upside down. While some activities are still available to enjoy, so many more have been cancelled. I will especially miss Watertown Riverfest. I am proud to say I have never missed a year of the festival’s 33 year-run. Four days of music, food, rides, fireworks, a car show, a craft fair, and so much more to entertain just about anybody! (Oh, and it’s FREE!) Our city doubles in size over those four days, and it is just magic. I’ve experienced Riverfest at every stage of my life. Going with my parents as a child, meeting up with friends as a teen, promoting it as a tourism manager, and now bringing my children to start their traditions. 2021 can’t come soon enough.
I encourage you all to look at your community through the eyes of a tourist. My eyes are now wide open to the local activities and amenities that fill our 16-page Visitor Guide. Locals, enjoy all that we have to offer. Visitors, we can’t wait to see you soon!