Dianna Ward has long held two passions – history and cycling. Last month in SouthEnd, just a few steps from the Lynx Bland Street stop on Park Road, she opened a business that combines both.
Charlotte NC Tours not only offers guided tours, it also rents bicycles. Ward says the Qcity has more history than initially meets the eye. She’s also banking that the NASCAR Hall of Fame will draw first-time visitors looking to know more about the city and region. She also offers a black history tour.
The company offers uptown walking tours starting at $10. The longer, guided tours can cost considerably more.
Ward is an applied mathematician. She worked for Corning, Bank of America and Wachovia, respectively. She said her entire group was let go from Wachovia in April after Wells Fargo bought the troubled bank. By then, she said, she had been planning her next move for several months.
Ward recently sat with Qcitymetro.com to discuss her new venture.
Q. Why a bike-rental and tour company?
I got this idea about a year and a half ago. I had been to several countries, had taken tours in other countries, had rented bikes in other countries. I enjoyed that life much more than my life as a banker, so I knew that my next job was going to be fun. I considered a drive-in movie theater. Then it came to me. I enjoy being out on my bike, traveling around the city. I expanded it to include tours because we needed business all season, because you can’t rent bikes year-round in Charlotte.
Q. Why not find another banking job?
I needed creative freedom. My father died in 2007. He always told me I needed to have two gigs. So even prior to our entire team being eliminated from Wachovia, I had already been planning for eight months to open this business. So, when we got our severance packages, I don’t think there was a happier person on April 2 in the United States of America.
Q. So, how is business going?
It ebbs and flows. We realize that we’re coming in somewhat on the end of vacation season, but what this is allowing us to do is really identify all of the potential partners. We’ve partnered with Center City Partners, with Visit Charlotte. We’ve developed relationships with several hotels, where we’ll have their information on our Web site and they’ll be promoting us also. The biking community — we’ve gotten involved with all those folks. So we’re doing the groundwork, expecting big things.
Q. What are your plans for NASCAR?
We envision being able to take people to the speed shops and to the racetrack. But there will be a group of people coming for NASCAR who want to see other stuff. There’s really nothing pretty between downtown and Concord. So we want to show then more of the city and give them a flavor of Charlotte.
Q. One doesn’t typically think of Charlotte as a tour city.
The interesting thing about Charlotte is that, when people ride into town and see our large buildings, our large brand new buildings, it can be deceiving. But Charlotte’s history predates the Revolutionary War. Why is Tryon Street called Tryon Street. There was a royal governor (William Tryon) when the capital of North Carolina was in New Bern. Why are we the Queen City? We’re the Queen City because Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Sterlitz was married to King George and we wanted favor. Why do we have so many Presbyterian churches in town? Because this area was settled by the Scotch-Irish. It’s not like we don’t have the history, it’s just that you’ve got to search a little harder for it. You go to any city and they take you to a cemetery. There’s nobody particularly famous buried in these cemeteries. We can take people on those same types of tours and give them the flavor. When people come to town they want to know what made your city great.
Q. Your Web site includes a segment on slavery.
Charlotte has a unique history surrounding African Americans. Even though it’s in the South, it wasn’t like Charleston. I would say the African Americans in Charleston probably had a pretty brutal existence. While there were slaves in Charlotte, at the peak I don’t think there were that many, and there were a lot of black businesses and landowners here. When you look at the history of this city, you can’t pass up the fact that there were some very prominent African Americans here, even prior to the end of slavery. There was a black gold mind owner. You had black people in almost every industry who had their own stuff going on.
Q. Tell us about the black history tour.
We go through Cherry, Brooklyn, Biddleville and then some on the outskirts, depending on what people are interested in seeing.
Q. Sounds like you’ve done some research.
Absolutely. Between the Web and the books that we’ve read, I’ve learned a lot over the last year. One of the things I don’t think black people take enough credit for is that our history didn’t just start after the civil war. We had people fighting in the Revolutionary War. Every day when I read something, I get even more proud. So, when people talk about hating this country, first I’d say that I’ve traveled all around the world and there’s no place else I’d rather live. But also, I claim even more ownership every time I read a history book and find out just how much we’ve had an impact on the growth and development of this country.
Q. Does your company have buses?
We have a Ford Flex. It’s a six-seater. But for larger groups, we have a relationship with some of the rental car agencies. If we have a really large group, we work with the charter bus companies. If you want to bring a group of 100 people together, we will work with you to get that tour off the ground.
Q. How may bikes so you have?
Right now we have about 17. We have a relationship with Uptown Cycles, and we will be purchasing Electro bikes through them. Over the next few months we’ll be getting about 20 more. By the time the tourist season comes up next May we’ll have 50 to 60 bikes.
Q. What’s been your biggest surprise?
Marking. You take it for granted when you work for a large company. Bank of American has had a long time to develop its brand. Getting the word out is so critical. Every day we spend at least half the day working on marketing. So while it’s not a huge surprise that you need to market, coming up with creative ways to market on a limited budget has been our big ‘Ah, Ha!’