Believe it or not, in the digital age people still want to see paper maps, a friendly face and a physical address.
Deborah O’Hara, owner of the new Redlands Visitor Center, is the first to admit it “makes no sense” on the surface. While running the About Redlands website, she has been getting hundreds of calls and messages each week from people who want to know more about what the city has to offer.
“What’s so crazy, we’ve found in the last year and a half, is people don’t want to search themselves, they want to ask,” O’Hara said while standing next to a large map of the city on the wall.
Redlands’ first visitor center, which opened in June, is across the street from the umbrella-filled Orange Street Alley, a tourist draw. Pictured here Thursday, July 25, the visitor center has had more than 2,000 visitors since opening. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
Rae Wittman, the 9-month-old granddaughter of Redlands Visitor Center owner Deborah O’Hara, plays in the business’ family room Thursday, July 25. The room offers a changing table and a place for kids and parents to cool down while exploring downtown. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
SoundThe gallery will resume insecondsRedlands Visitor Center owner Deborah O’Hara shows off a binder of menus from restaurants Thursday, July 25. She said visitors don’t want to wade through websites to find something to eat. They want the menus all in one place, especially children’s menus. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
The Redlands Visitor Center opened in June, and as of Thursday, July 25, has had more than 2,000 visitors. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
The Redlands Visitor Center offers an array of local products from baby bibs and T-shirts, seen here on July 25, to notecards and apricot jam. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
Redlands Visitor Center owner Deborah O’Hara shares some of the maps and brochures offered at the business Thursday, July 25. Surprisingly, she said people don’t want maps on their phones, they want physical ones, especially for hiking trails where they might not get cell reception. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
The sign for the Redlands Visitor Center sits outside the Orange Street Alley on Tuesday July 23. The center opened June 12. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
Deborah O’Hara shows off a wall of photos portraying what Redlands has to offer at the city’s first visitor center on Thursday, July 25. (Photo by Jennifer Iyer, Staff)
Since the center’s June 12 soft opening, more than 2,000 people have walked through the door.
There has been an array of questions, from where to buy men’s satchels or get a rockabilly haircut to where to find lymphatic massage for cancer patients.
New residents, prospective university students, tourists drawn out by the Instagram-friendly umbrella-filled alley across the street, they all want to know more, she said, and “want to talk to someone face to face.”
Visitors are “incredibly important” to businesses in the city, said Chris Alvarez, executive director of the Redlands Chamber of Commerce, which is not affiliated with the center, but will likely collaborate with it.
Redlands’ new visitor center is located across the street from the Orange Street Alley tourist draw.
“Visitor centers in general, I think, are assets to business, particularly small business, and a lot of folks like doing the local experience,” he said. “People aren’t afraid to go off the beaten path, and a visitor center can have a lot of that sort of information.”
O’Hara points people who only have a few hours in town to the Lincoln Shrine and the A.K. Smiley Public Library, and shares information on walking tours and the Historical Glass Museum.
The 800-square-foot dog-friendly center also includes a family room that offers a diaper-changing table, an area for moms to nurse, and toys and a television that shows old movies for kids or parents who want to cool off while visiting downtown.
The Redlands Conservancy’s physical maps of hiking trails are also popular, she said, because of spotty cell reception in the middle of nature.
O’Hara said she also found herself in disbelief while putting together a binder of menus from local restaurants.
“People have asked for it,” she said. “They don’t know the name of any restaurants, they don’t want to search 10 plus websites. It’s time consuming. So they just flip through that thing.”
The location had been a jumping off point to explore Redlands around the turn of the century, too. Back then, travelers coming from the train station were dropped off by carriages at a spot nearby.
With rail set to come back to the city in 2022, O’Hara said the need for visitor services will only increase.
“It will be amazing,” she said. “Someone can just hop on a train instead of driving … and just come for the day,” and they, of course, will want to know what there is to see and do.
O’Hara is looking for businesses and nonprofit groups with which to partner, either as sponsors, to make donations, or even for just a menu for the binder.
A grand opening is planned for fall.
Redlands Visitor Center
Hours: Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments and tours are available any time.
Where: 14 Fifth St.
Information: 909-721-1399, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter