Abingdon - Homegrown Tools

Abingdon, VA

Updated: 2022

The Barter Theatre, a staple tourist attraction in Abingdon, VA, was forced to indefinitely close its doors when the pandemic hit. The Barter then created “Barter at the Moonlite,” repurposing a former drive-in movie theater in the community for performances. The venue serves as an innovative way to continue attracting tourists to the area.

Median Household Income2020$46,653
Poverty Rate 202017.6%
Proximity to Urban Center 134 miles
Proximity to Interstate Highway I-81 runs through town
Case Study Time Frame 2020-2021
Municipal Budget 2021-202223.9 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Abingdon is home to the historic Barter Theatre, established in 1933 during the Great Depression. For 40 cents, or the equivalent paid in bartered goods, patrons could watch a show. In the present-day, Barter Theatre is the state theatre of Virginia, as well as the nation’s longest running professional theatre. In a regular year, Barter performances draw thousands of visitors to the area, accounting for up to 35 to 40 percent of Abingdon’s tourism. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Barter opened “Barter at the Moonlite” to provide a safe way for visitors to watch shows.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Leverage Other Local Attractions. The Visit Abingdon website positions the Barter Theatre and nearby Virginia Creeper as the top two area experiences on the home page, also offering weekend itineraries that promote both family-friendly tourism destinations.11 During COVID-19 and beyond, it can be valuable to co-promote local outdoor or other physically distanced attractions in a community. This can help to make diverse offerings more visible, and draw tourists (and tourism dollars) to the area for longer visits.


Remember That Crisis Can Bring Opportunity. Amanda Livingston notes that the Barter could have just closed its doors when the pandemic struck and done nothing. However, she believes that would have been the death of the theatre. Through continuing performances at an innovative venue, the Barter has demonstrated that it is still relevant and vital. For its efforts, it has received national attention, including a profile in American Theatre magazine, as well as inquiries from The New York Times and Martha Stewart Living. Livingston points out that this approach gives the Barter momentum for the future.