Business owners talk increasing traffic, visitors in Chester

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The March meeting of the Chester Economic Development Corp.,  held last Wednesday at the Free Range Restaurant, featured several discussions around efforts to increase traffic and add value to a visit to Chester.

The CEDC is a private, not-for-profit organization that evaluates applications for loans from the Chester Development Fund and makes recommendations about them to the Select Board. The CEDC is also the organization from which the Chester Beautification Committee grew.

Taking a cue from a recent presentation about small town economic revitalization by Boston architect Steven Cecil, Chester resident Steve Davis presented a plan to create a town brochure – similar to those produced by Grafton and Putney – for distribution at Vermont welcome centers. Envisioned as a multi-fold brochure with space for a number of thumbnail photos with descriptions of local businesses and attractions, Davis called the project “not cheap, but not hideous” and announced that the Rotary Club of Chester has offered to put $1,000 toward the effort.

Davis estimated that it would take about 40 businesses to sign on to the brochure to make it effective and noted that the towns that this is modeled after also have websites that promote them. He added that Chester does not and that perhaps a website would be a follow-up step.

Free Range owner Rick Paterno

Free Range owner Rick Paterno would like to see the Common resurfaced with new parking lines drawn to accommodate more cars.

Saying that he was also inspired by the Cecil presentation, Free Range owner Rick Paterno said that an overall project was needed rather than a lot of one-off efforts. Paterno talked about ways to make the area more vital starting with the Green.

Referring back to Cecil’s emphasis on finding sufficient parking, Paterno suggested that an effort start with resurfacing the street – known as “the Common” and striping the road to accommodate more cars. He then looked at ways to “make things happen” including music, benches and tables and even games on the Green.

“It’s all about getting people down here,” said Paterno, suggesting that an ice cream vendor would be an attraction for the downtown. Michele Bargfrede of Sage Jewelry noted that she and Country on the Common owner Sharon Baker were looking into music events to attract people to their businesses in the alley next to the Free Range.

CEDC President Bill Dakin, welcomed the ideas noting that the initiatives needed leadership and collaboration. Pointing to Marji Graf and the Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce, Dakin said that the town didn’t need a website because the chamber already promotes Chester on its website.

Graf said that she has been listening to the feedback she has gotten and the chamber isn’t about Okemo and Ludlow anymore. Going forward, the chamber is focusing on the area she is calling “South Central” and expanding into more communities including Londonderry and Grafton.

“Each one of us has a vision,” said Dakin. “We need to not chew off such a big chunk that we can’t swallow.” Suggesting that the Chester efforts start small, Dakin said that a group should be formed to put together a budget and a plan for the brochure.

Nancy Chute of the Chester Beautification Committee reported that that group had begun work on an update of the architectural walking tour of downtown that was printed in 1997 by the Chester Chamber of Commerce. The self- guided walking tour will begin at the Brookside Cemetery with the Hearse House and make a 1-mile loop to Lover’s Lane and back using the Historic District nomination written by Hugh Henry for descriptions and tracing the evolution of the town through its buildings.

Bargfrede raised the question of a public bathroom for the Green area, asking if the bathroom in the information center by the cemetery would be reopened.  The building, which sits on town land, was built by the Chester Chamber of Commerce and was transferred to the ownership of the Okemo Valley Chamber.

It is not hooked up to town sewer – having  a small septic tank instead. According to Graf, the upkeep and repair of the bathroom has become too expensive for the chamber and so the board voted to close it. “The building is open for brochures and that’s all,” said Graf. Dakin wondered what it would cost to hook the building up to the town’s sewer system.

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    I’m sorry if I sounded  negative. I have put a lot of time, effort and money into the Festival grounds concept. We have filled meetings with people but aside from my contributions and those of Bill Dakin, we have received little financial support. Getting wind of my plan The American Legion tried to buy the land holding up the lease until the Thursday before my event! I had four carvers coming from overseas, 25 other artists, all my efforts and much promotional money spent.

    The day after the Germans arrived I went to the hardware store and they were  walking out with bags full of tools and supplies. I went to the Diner where carvers were having breakfast. The week-long event ended successfully. Folks had fun, commerce came to town and I was able to recoup my investment. Real dollars were brought to town that would not have come here without the Festival. The Festival grounds are here for the town’s benefit and the lease is currently held by a non-profit. The Festival grounds is a viable idea that needs your energy and dollars. 

    What quantitive value could ongoing events have for our town in terms of money, arts and culture?  Wouldn’t it be nice to go to the edge of town to hear music, watch an equestrian event or see an oxen pull?  Wouldn’t it be cool to have some big sculptures in that park environment, a Farmers/Artisans market? How about a giant question mark with a sign in the loop saying ” Have you seen Green? What ideas do you have or would you like to see? 

    This is why I said a flyer is a band-aid for a broken leg. A Festival Grounds is more of an economic cast in my opinion. It sets us up to improve economically for a long time to come. The annual lease is $1800 that’s it. How much pull could “seen the Green?” get?

    The flyer is not a bad idea but it’s just 4000 flyers. It looks like it could bring in $4000 with 1k from Rotary and 20 businesses@ $150.  If 4000 are printed that’s $1.12 per flyer a lot of money per acquisition.   I think it could be produced easily for $2500. That being said, this can do more by making it a fund raiser like a playbill. It’s unclear if that’s the plan, I hope it is.    

    I think the flyer could create a few more sales for me and direct folks to my Web site. I’m a bit afraid it will turn into studio tours the same thing that happened with the people VTICA sent here. I had two sales from the three years of referrals I finally said don’t send people to me. I don’t do the Open Studios for the same reason. My products are very labor intensive, I lack inexpensive inventory, really  salable inventory is often low, I have  many orders to fill already and I need time to work. It’s a real dilemma for me. I’m really a home studio as much as a gallery. 

    I want to be a team player. Vermont is not work a “work together” culture it’s an independent culture. There are many people who seem to have great pride in what Chester is and was but also appear to get joy out of “Flat Lander Failures”. We are very polarized right now. I think we all agree we need more good jobs in our region. We have the Vt Department of Tourism, state, regional and local economic development, the chamber our own marketing and promotion. So why are we not gaining? I think times have changed and it’s not that easy.  

    I think we have great potential with the traffic we already have that’s why I say fish them. Mondays are good for me many store are not open Mondays. People head home slow on Mondays and have time to stop.   

    I hope some day to have a manufacturing facility on the edge of town cranking wooden bears with 5 axis milling machines and selling them around the world. If I’m able to do that I’ll be creating jobs and have money to do more for our town and I’ll be happy to do it. Like many of you I’m undercapitalized so any all investments need a good ROI even the small ones. I’m on team Chester working very hard listed on a flyer or not. 

  2. Mary Jane Miles says:

    Cynthia,
    I caught the survey early on but I happen to love Thai food and would not be disappointed. 🙂

  3. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Actually, the survey — a Chester Telegraph Poll — found that the majority of respondents want a Thai restaurant; Mexican came in 2nd; steakhouse 3rd; seafood 4th. We’ll be writing out the results soon. http://www.chestertelegraph.org/2015/02/16/telegraph-poll-what-type-of-new-restaurant-would-you-want/

  4. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I have to agree with Ms. Junker, Mr. Paterno and Mr. Kunze. We need sustainable growth and development and it just isn’t in the plan, you must increase the tax base with growth that is attracting families to move here, businesses to come here and areas where growth can occur.

    You can only sell so many antiques. The roads are in horrible shape due to the nature of where we live. We can’t only rely on tourism but sustainable businesses and if we are going to use our tourism card being near Okemo and Magic Mountain, we need to offer something that will make people want to stay here, concerts, community fairs, maybe a children’s discovery museum; offer options to sell things people need.

    Wasn’t there a survey recently indicating people want a steak and seafood restaurant? Diversity is key, attract families with increasing family things to do that are accessible. What makes a thriving community thrive and what turns one into a sleep bedroom community? I feel we are becoming the latter and would like Chester to be a bustling community that people want to live in and can afford to live in.

  5. Michele Bargfrede says:

    I’m very surprised at the negative comments around this subject. Anything positive is a step in a better direction. Lew has a great point. Let’s work together. Talk more and be more positive about supporting each other. This is not anything that is affecting your wallets unless you want to take part. It’s about the businesses that are here and would like to grow.

  6. Barre Pinske says:

    I was not fortunate enough to go to Harvard Business School, but seeing grizzly bears swatting salmon in an Alaskan river as a child clued me into a basic business principle. You need to fish where the fish are. The results of everyone’s business efforts are clear in how many fish they catch and if they have any left to share with others.

    I have three primary goals; pay my bills, don’t starve and don’t freeze to death. I hope to accomplish more. I’m with Lew when back in the day….. Things have changed. Business is not that easy. Band aids don’t help a broken leg. I’m sorry my ostrich friends, I know keeping your head in the sand seems safe but I feel strongly we need more than flowers and a flyer. Are there any other efforts going on that might have legs? Like a way to net fish as they drive by?

  7. Having a vibrant growing economy that is not solely dependant on tourism is vital to the Chester area. We need sustainable, good paying jobs that attract younger families and in turn they are willing and able to spend money within the community and help support the infrastructure. Printing a brochure is nice, but unless thousands of visitors come through, there are not enough customers for all the competing businesses in the area. VPR just had a wonderful noon show on ‘rebranding VT’ to attract tech and other entreprenureal businesses with sustainable, good paying jobs. Worth listening to!

  8. Sarah James says:

    In addition to what the town already offers in terms of businesses and restaurants, maybe offering fun and interesting events to get people to come to town. Such as a wine and cheese nature hike or a wine and cheese art tour in the town or a ghost tour, horseback riding or something to do with the Civil War era houses and graveyard or a Medieval faire. Just a few fun thoughts!

  9. Kevin Kunze says:

    Topic of Increasing Traffic/Visitors to Chester: Repainting parking lines and patching roads should already be in a budget.

    Redesign of areas could allow for seasonal activity parking, but Chester lacks a Business Growth Plan (i.e. groups of small starter locations, medium-sized locations, etc.). If you can’t get one bathroom opened, how can you redesign an area for growth? To solve the recent flood issue, the state is buying up properties too damaged and only looking at a LONG-TERM REPORT of fixing the problems.

    Anything you decide to help the town will end up being held up in that process as it will affect water/land use. Any planning for Chester that will be able to be done in the near future will only be possible in the areas across from the Green (North Side).

    Also, any planning should also include Disaster Emergency Service location (where can people go when no power or flood makes them have to leave their homes). So far no one can tell me of a local emergency plan (I have been asking).

    FYI, I did also speak with the state rep for the Water Management after the last Williams River washout in Andover. If there are any changes made to help prevent Williams River flooding in Chester again, you will not see action for the next 10 years. So any redesign will not happen in known flood plain areas.

  10. Lew Watters says:

    Once upon a time, before the information highway aka the internet, there was cooperation between town businesses and organizations. The innkeepers distributed your brochure, even called you when there were guests wanting to visit your shop, There were many levels and degrees of cooperation: The business community created and published town brochures; retired seniors manned the information booth; the historical society was open on a regular schedule with volunteers to greet interested visitors; the Chester Art Guild held featured artist shows with receptions and open air lawn shows on holiday weekends. Regrettably, we are no longer connected anymore as a community. Are we too busy to engage people in person in a way that leaves a lasting impression?

  11. Michele Bargfrede says:

    To Cathy’s comment: The brochure project is funded in part by the Rotary and the rest will come from the businesses who want to be involved. The restroom is a big need on the green, we are looking into this and it certainly is a consideration to how it’s paid for. Tourism is a big part of Chester and Vermont’s economy. Very many businesses in Chester rely on this to make our livings. We live here too and want our business to grow. The better the current business grow, the better Chester looks to families and business wanting to make this their home too.

  12. Cathy McWilliam says:

    How would all of these projects be funded? Who would pay for a public bathroom? What about also attracting more businesses to Chester that don’t rely solely on tourism and shopping, but are more geared toward providing year round employment for more than just a few people, thus potentially drawing more families to Chester for a lifetime, not just a weekend here and there.