Concord Guides - Walking Tours
Concord Guides


Concord gets new tour; some call it rebellion

By Caroline Louise Cole

CONCORD - The newest service for Concord's 465,000 yearly visitors is receiving rave reviews from tourists but has ruffled both the local Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Selectmen.

Three weeks ago, a local physician and history buff, Joel Andrews, began offering a daily two-hour walking tour of the townís historic landmarks. Andrews is leading the tours with the help of seven other local residents who hold tour guiding licenses issued by selectmen.

"It's been an immediate success, Andrews reported, proudly noting that as many as 16 tourists a day have happily shelled out $15 each for a personalized history lesson of Concord's rich past. Andrews' Concord Walking Tours leave at 10 a.m. from in front of St. Bernard's Church in Concord Square. Depending on the day, the guides may be dressed as Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott or a Concord minute man.

But Andrews was rebuffed by the president of the local Chamber of Commerce when he asked to post notices of his Concord Walking Tours at the Concord Visitors Center booth on Heywood Street. The chamber offers its own one-hour tours at 1 p.m., but only on Saturdays, Sundays and major holidays.

Chamber president Marissa Nunley said she denied Andrews' request because "we have to be really concerned about littering the neighborhood ."

She said she has instructed her staff to remove all other notices posted on the exterior walls of the visitors' center in an effort to be fair.

However, she has left in place the chamber's own blue notice advertising its tours.

"I told Joel we will give out his flier if people ask for it." she said.

When Andrews complained to the Board of Selectmen that he was not being treated equitably, the board dismissed his complaint..

'Iím embarrassed that this is before us," said Selectman Arthur Fulman. "The market creates its own competition. You've got other places you can post your notices."

Andrews said he found that remark patronizing, particularly because the town owns the Visitors Center. And he said that while Concordís hotels and restaurants have happily posted his notices, he still wants the official recognition that only the chamber and town can give.

"The very values the minute man fought to overcome - exclusion, censorship, restraint of trade and the status quo - are being ignored," Andrews said. "The fact is, the playing field is unevenly tipped toward the chamber. Like it or not, because the board issues licenses for tour-guiding they are the referees and at least right now are siding with the chamber."

But Andrews said be wasn't surprised at the chamber's initial reaction, because a major impetus for starting his own service was what he called its "favoritism in the hiring of its own guides."

"I and many of my guides have on their waiting list for years, but we never get called," Andrews said. He notes that he allows his guides to keep all proceeds beyond a $10 administrative fee per tour because guides do the work. he says, they enjoy the interaction with the public.

The chamber, which charges $8.50 instead of Andrews' $15 the tour, pays its guides a flat per hour.

Concord is the only community in Massachusetts that requires tour guides to hold a $10 license, according to Eric Gedstad of the state's Office of Travel and Tourism.

"Licensing tour guides is becoming a hot issue as communities begin to recognize they need to maintain certain standards," he said. "We are beginning to see more communities debate the licensing issue."

To qualify for a Concord tour guide license, residents must pass a rigorous nine-section test on Concord history, administered each winter by local history teacher Judy Crockett. Most of the 75 who currently hold licenses first completed Crockett's 10-week course on Concord history, which is offered for $100 through the adult education program at the local high school.

Crockett, who is one of three regular guides for the chamber, said she thinks Andrews' new service has brought Concord's ambivalence toward tourists to the fore.

"Personally I am in favor of anything we can do to help the tourists better understand Concord's history, and I told the chamber folks that," she said. "In fact, I told them I would work for Andrews, as well."

The town has argued for years over relocating the Visitors Center to larger quarters, Crockett said. Even last spring's Town Meeting decision to move the center across the street has generated a protest from neighbors, who are citing environmental concerns.

"The fact is, Lexington does a much better job of putting out the welcome mat for its visitors, and Concord could learn much from their approach," Crockett said.

She also said she is not concerned that Andrews' service will take work away from her or any other guide. "Clearly, Joel has proven the demand is there," Crockett said. "I say the more the merrier."

Nunley said she is prepared to meet with Andrews again in hopes of forging a compromise.

But she said she recognizes that he probably won't settle for anything less than equal billing with the chamber's own service. "He wants his own way, and I am just not sure we can accommodate that," she said. As for customer reaction to the new service, Jim Hake of Pennington, N.J., said after last Sundayís walk around Concord that he appreciated Andrews' lively retelling of Concord's Place in American history.

"Now I have a much clearer understanding why the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord started and: how they fit into American political life today," said Hake, who stopped in Concord with his friend, Aurelle Sprout, on their trip home from a vacation in Maine. "This tour was worth every penny and then some."