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Downtown Brattleboro Alliance picks ‘low-hanging fruit,’ encourages involvement

At its annual meeting, the designated downtown organization recaps a year of promotions, events, and beautification efforts

BRATTLEBORO—It was local beers and food all around for the members of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance at the organization’s annual meeting.

Local breweries and restaurants donated the evening’s beer and burgers for the Sept. 20 annual meeting held at The Lounge at Duo.

“People tell me I host a good party,” joked Alliance President Michelle Simpson-Siegel. “But this is a business meeting.”

The meeting opened with a quiz show. Contestants answered questions about what the Alliance had achieved over the year.

Achievements included:

• Awarding $3,500 in matching grants to support four initiatives or events: Gallery Walk, Coworking Plus, Southern Vermont Dance Festival, and Tiny House Festival.

• A new event called Luv Crawl, which brought 165 people into downtown businesses for pre-Valentine’s Day partying and shopping.

• Placing 5,000 rack cards — promotional flyers — advertising downtown Brattleboro at the Guilford Welcome Center. To Simpson-Siegel’s knowledge, no other organization has picked this “low hanging fruit” to promote downtown Brattleboro.

• Adding 28 hanging baskets to its downtown flower program.

• Sending more than 17,000 e-postcards to people living within the town’s “target drive market.” The drive market includes Boston, Hartford, New York City, and Montreal.

#tapbratt

The organization also has launched a social media handle — #tapbratt — she said. The “tapbratt” refers to many aspects of the downtown, from breweries, to restaurants, to maple syrup producers, Simpson-Siegel explained.

Organizers of the inaugural Tiny House Festival made a presentation. The festival was a success, said organizers Lisa Kuneman, Erin Maile O’Keefe, and Betsy Hall — they expected 400 people, but about 5,000 showed up.

One of the festival’s many goals was to highlight tiny houses as attainable and sustainable housing.

Alliance members attending Tuesday’s meeting applauded the organizers’ decision to encourage festival visitors to visit downtown businesses. For example, the festival didn’t include food trucks at its location but instead directed people to nearby restaurants.

Simpson-Siegel said many restaurant owners told her after the Sept. 4 festival that they had had lines out the door and many broke sales records.

Kuneman, O’Keefe, and Hall have started planning for next year’s Tiny House Festival, to be held Sept. 3, 2017. They want to expand their $13,000 budget and hire four paid part-time staff members during the coming year.

A ’friends of’ category

Members voted to change the organization’s bylaws to create a “friends of” membership category. This membership level would serve people not living within the Downtown Improvement District. These “friends of” members could participate in the Alliance but wouldn’t have the same voting powers as District members.

The District is the geographical area represented by the Alliance — approximately the area between the town common and Marlboro College Graduate Center. Property owners inside the District pay a special assessment tax to support the organization’s efforts.

Membership is open to anyone living, owning property, or operating a business within the District.

Members also provided the Alliance board with red, green, and yellow feedback on the organization’s work plan.

Simpson-Siegel explained that members were given a red, a green, and a yellow card. Members then dropped the card of their choice into baskets that corresponded to each of the three sections of the work plan: economic development, beautification, and promotions. Each section’s goals were taped to each basket.

Red meant a vote for decreasing spending in that section, Simpson-Siegel said. Green meant increase spending, she continued. Yellow meant the member wanted to “slow down” efforts in that section, she said.

Alliance staff and board members will compile the feedback and integrate it into the work plan.

New work plan on the way

Simpson-Siegel said the organization will unveil its updated 2017 work plan at a public meeting Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. in the Brooks House atrium. She encouraged the public to attend and weigh in on the organization’s work plan and goals for 2017.

Simpson-Siegel says her primary inspiration and commitment remains “connecting the dots.” This means making sure as many people as possible are at the table.

For example, the Alliance recently hosted what Simpson-Siegel called a “live music think tank.” Every downtown business owner with a venue space was invited.

They discussed how to better coordinate and promote music events in Brattleboro, she said.

The ultimate goal? Downtown venues commit to a coordinated schedule so that Brattleboro offers live music every night of the week.

Simpson-Siegel admits this may not be possible, but she said people are trying to commit to it.

“It’s about getting all those people to the table to coordinate efforts,” she said.

Simpson-Siegel said she looks forward to collaborating with more people, more businesses, and more members of municipal government during the coming year.

“A lot of the right people are in the right seats to move things forward for Brattleboro,” she said.

Food, drink, and other donations for the annual meeting were provided by Hazel, Graffiti Sandwich, Duo Restaurant, Superfresh Organic Café, Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery, Hermit Thrush Brewery, Penelope Wurr Glass, Galanes Vermont Shop, Persimmon Rose Holistic Skincare, and the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #376 (Wednesday, September 28, 2016). This story appeared on page B1.

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