For more than eight years, Chris Staudinger and his wife, Tawny, traveled to more than 50 countries, capturing video and reporting for outlets like BBC Travel and USA Today. And in 2017, the couple embarked on its most incredible venture yet — parenthood.
“The travel-blogging gig kept us on the road pretty much eight months of the year, and we were basically doing promotions for other people’s tour companies,” Staudinger said of life on the road. “We realized — since we were going to be here, and we loved Tacoma so much — that having a baby ironically would give us the time that we needed to start something.”
In the intervening years, the couple launched Pretty Gritty Tours, playing off Tacoma’s “Grit City” nickname. The company has become known for offering tours that home in on historically significant parts of the South Sound. Popular events have included sojourns to Fort Steilacoom, Meeker Mansion, Stadium High School, the Tacoma Armory, and some of the best bars, candy shops, and java joints in the Pacific Northwest.
When COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many tour companies like Staudinger’s took a major hit. Fortunately, the Pacific Lutheran University grad was able to pull from his videography background to quickly pivot Pretty Gritty. Live virtual tours began popping up on Pretty Gritty’s website just a few weeks into the pandemic, and it wasn’t long before Staudinger was shipping brews and sweets to customers to sample during what would have been in-person tastings.
“The thing I’ve always loved about travel and tourism are the opportunities for connection and self-enrichment. So, our virtual tours, just the way our walking tours did, try to speak directly to that,” Staudinger said. “And in a way, COVID was kind of a benefit for that because we had all these people who were suddenly hungry to connect again, and we were literally under house arrest.”
Pretty Gritty’s bread and butter always has been its ghost tours — especially during this time of year, when the leaves begin to change and paper pumpkins adorn the shop windows along Pacific Avenue — so Staudinger has begun ramping up to relaunch the company’s in-person walking tours.
“I think the hardest part of this whole thing is that our partners, the venues we usually showcase, have been removed from the map in a lot of ways,” said Staudinger, who often leads the tours himself, flickering lantern in hand. “But one thing we do still have the ability to do is to stand outside and tell ghost stories; we are going to leverage that this fall.”
Photos by Tawny Clark
6 a.m. My first priority is to get some coffee so that I can keep up with my 2- and 4-year-olds, who somehow wake up at 100 percent.
6:45 a.m. Iʼm working with the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum on an educational series involving the shipwrecks of Commencement Bay for Tacoma Public Schools, so I try to figure out mileage and research zones to relay to my on-the-water team.
8:13 a.m. Quick stop out at the forge to finish up a project for a friend. I try to get my blacksmithing done in the morning before I head out to do my paying gig. It helps me feel more focused and accomplished.
9:50 a.m. As the world wakes up, itʼs time to collaborate, and I use these late mornings to work on partnerships with local museums, venues, and researchers. This is my time to get info from local experts and to help develop the new tours.
12:30 p.m. My wife and I hit the water to get footage, do some water research, and to chart the locations we think the wrecks are as we prepare for these new water tours.
2:55 p.m. Out on the empty streets by Old City Hall, I map out tour routes to see if our new narrative will match up with our path. As we work to create new, in-person tours for the fall, we have been striving to keep the tours exciting, fresh, and safe.
4:24 p.m. Back home to work on web development for the Heritage League of Pierce County. Part of my duties as vice president for the Heritage League is to design the site and keep it up to date.
5:35 p.m. Itʼs impossible to be truly productive working at home with kids, so I try to make the most of this time and spend it with them when I can.
6:42 p.m. With hundreds of hours of research in the bag, we have the opportunity to turn our walking tour material into kid-friendly content that can be used for distance learning.
8 p.m. In this new world of COVID-19, almost all of our tours are online. Most evenings, I guide live tours virtually, with the bulk of them being offered for free thanks to the City of Tacoma and other sponsors.