- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

Cultural Tourism DC plans to announce a new event tomorrow designed to bring locals and tourists inside the city’s embassies.

At least 40 of the city’s 170 embassies and cultural centers plan to participate in the first “Passport DC” event from May 3 to 17.

For two weeks, the embassies will be hosting open houses and cultural events, such as performances of native music or dance.

Linda Harper, executive director of Cultural Tourism, said the idea came about after hearing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s repeated references to the District as a “world-class city.” That, combined with an influx of embassy members at Cultural Tourism, prompted the organization to “just promote the things that acknowledge” Washington’s world-class status.

“How many times have you driven down Massachusetts Avenue and seen the fabulous buildings and flags?” Ms. Harper said. “You say, ‘What country is that? What flag is that? What goes on behind those doors?’ There is a fabulous mystery behind it.”

She calls the event “an opportunity to peek in and begin to understand what it really does mean to us.”

On May 3, at least 25 of the European Union’s 27 countries plan to host open houses, where guests can walk through the embassies and see videos or dances or listen to music. The events will vary by country. On May 17, similar events are scheduled to be hosted by other countries, including Argentina, Pakistan and Iraq.

In between, the embassies and cultural institutions will host other events, including displays of Russian figurines and Mexican pottery.

Cultural Tourism said it doesn’t yet know how much money it will spend on the program.

That will depend on how many embassies end up participating and other costs, such as shuttle transportation, Ms. Harper said.

The organization predicts as many as 100,00 people could participate. Last year, the European Union embassies hosted a similar one-day open house that attracted 35,000 visitors, Ms. Harper said.

Ms. Harper said Cultural Tourism expects this event to initially draw on visitors from Baltimore through Richmond. But she expects the event to grow in the future.

In other news …

• Fitness companies continue to open gyms in the Washington area at a staggering rate. Equinox, a New York gym that touts award-winning design, personal trainers and spas, has opened its first local gym at 8065 Leesburg Pike in Vienna.

• Chop’t Creative Salad Co., which opened its first Washington-area location in Penn Quarter in November, opened its second area store last week at 1300 Connecticut Ave. NW.

• Saxbys Coffee opened its fourth Washington-area store last week, this one at 1000 Vermont Ave. NW. The Philadelphia-based company says Washington is an important market for the chain and plans to open an additional dozen stores by the end of the year.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Send news to Jen Haberkorn at jhaberkorn@washington times.com or 202/636-4836.

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