While we’re still on our mid-winter hiatus, which come to an end on Friday, Feb. 16, when we reopen for President’s Weekend, it seems like a good time to ponder some longterm trends and local efforts by some of our area’s community leaders to adjust to changing times and business circumstances.

Almost two years ago, out local chamber of commerce, The Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber, went belly up and ceased operations. The reasons were several fold; one was a decline in memberships when the health insurance policies the chamber used to offer members were replaced by broader access under the Affordable Care Act. The bottom line was that the organization, which coordinated marketing the region — Manchester, Dorset, Arlington, the ski areas and folks like us in little old Sunderland, was gone.

In time, a new association has come along to attempt to replace it – the Manchester Business Association. You can visit their website at manchestervermont.com.

At present, the association is focused closely on marketing and promoting businesses based in Manchester, but we’re hopeful in time that will broaden out a bit to include small family-run businesses like ours (and all businesses, for that matter) that happen to be located not only in Manchester but in surrounding towns. While there’s lots to see and do in Manchester, it’s hard to think of the area and not include the recreational, cultural and, yes, shopping amenities and opportunities in neighboring places.

The association is hopeful of obtaining $50,000 in taxpayer support to help ¬†market the town and their businesses, a sum they hope to match with their own fundraising and part of which will of to support the successful ITV Fest which made its successful local debut last October. We’re hopeful that Manchester voters get behind the proposal, since it’s an obvious win-win. And that in time, the business association is able to spread its wings.

Hopeful signs are also coming from the south, where the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce  

is evolving into a county-wide regional chamber, intent on marketing not just Bennington and the southern end of the county, but the northern end, or “northshire” as well. Hopefully the two organizations will mesh well and work together to fill the vacuum left behind by the old chamber.

Such marketing matters, because there are lots of great places to visit for day-trips, weekends, or longer, and folks in other places want you to visit them as much as we want your business here. That’s even more important today, when online commerce continues to draw shoppers to websites for the ease and convenience. We discussed this a little bit in last week’s post.

The dynamics of marketing, and how some towns or areas get it right, and others seemingly don’t, is a fascinating area, and as we work hard on our own Christmas Days-specific marketing, we’re acutely aware of the bigger picture. We’re probably more likely to see you as a customer if there’s three or four other gift shops around here that you want to visit, or covered bridges to be seen, hiking and kayaking experiences to be had, and other reasons to prompt a visit here, instead of somewhere else.

There’s also an interesting initiative under way in neighboring Arlington, to spruce up the town and bring its “shine” back. Though we’re not inArlington, we have close ties, of course, so we’re hopeful this project bears fruit also.

All told, there’s some movement underway in these hills and its good to see folks aren’t sitting still and expecting visitors will always come no matter what.

And remember, we’ll be back in operation on Friday, Feb. 16. We’ll be open just Fridays – Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’ll look forward to seeing you when you get here.