By enjoying the Birthday Bash Program
By Aimee O’Grady
Marta and Mary did not know one another when they walked into the Old Jail Museum one sunny, summer Friday, but they soon discovered they had something in common. Although born in different years, the two women shared a birthday, June 24, and they decided to celebrate together in Old Town Warrenton. The duo walked through town visiting shops, filling their red bags, and being wished a happy birthday by merchants throughout town. This was exactly what was intended when the merchants adopted the Birthday Bash Program for Old Town Warrenton.
In January 2016, Lee Owsley, owner of Latitudes Fair Trade, was on vacation when she began speaking with a merchant from the small town of Spring Green, Wisconsin. “She mentioned this program that the merchants of Spring Green participated in,” recalls Owsley, who made a mental note to bring it to the next merchant meeting after she returned home. The merchants quickly embraced the idea and organized the program to get it under way.
Once the program was developed, Owsley contacted the town council, which provided some reassurance that the town would support the program. The merchant feedback was equally as supportive. The town was so supportive that they provided funding for a graphic designer to create a logo and for the merchants to purchase the startup items that included red bags, window decals, and stickers for birthday guests.
“The idea is simple,” explains Owsley. “Anyone visiting Old Town Warrenton on their birthday receives a red bag, a sticker, and a map with 27 participating merchants. When they go into any participating merchant [identified by a window cling] they receive a small gift.” Gifts include sweets of their choosing, a gourmet chocolate bar, a small frame, flowers, jewelry polishing cloth, and even a small celebratory ceramic ornament. “Merchants are encouraged to give items to birthday guests, rather than gift certificates,” says Owsley. “We want their bag to feel full as they walk through town.” As an added touch, merchants sign the bag and have their photo taken with the celebrants for social media. “We want visitors and residents to know how special they are and when their birthday rolls around each year we want them to think ‘I’m going to celebrate in Old Town Warrenton,’” says Owsley.
Warrenton resident Angee Adams saw the Birthday Bash program on Facebook on her birthday this summer and decided to celebrate in Old Town. “It’s a great program, I love it,” she said. “The merchants are all very friendly and outgoing. We have amazing stores and this program will introduce them to more people who may not know about some of our hidden gems,” she continued. Adams and her family relocated to Warrenton over 16 years ago from the Virginia Beach area. “We came here because we wanted the small-town charm. Unfortunately, we see Warrenton expanding and developing a lot lately. Programs like this and other events like First Friday and Gum Drop Square will help to retain the charm and intimacy of a small town,” she adds.
In the case of Marta and Mary, they gained much more than a full gift bag of well wishes from Old Town Warrenton merchants; they gained a new friendship.
To be eligible to participate in the Birthday Bash Old Town Warrenton program, you must be at least 18 years old and present an ID indicating your birthdate to a participating merchant when you visit Old Town Warrenton. For visitors whose birthday falls on Christmas or New Year’s Day, you are welcome to visit Old Town Warrenton one day before or after your birthday to collect birthday gifts from merchants. For questions or to be added to the list of participating merchants, contact Lee Owsley at email@example.com.