By Audrey Richardson
Special To The Standard
Village merchants joined forces last year to create the Village Business Alliance (VBA), and their efforts are still going strong. This new downtown association was responsible for such deeds as hanging flower baskets on lampposts in the village as well as “locals night” which kept merchants open later during the holidays. Jeff Kahn of the Unicorn is responsible for initiating the VBA and other merchants quickly jumped on board. Larry Perry of Ace Home and Hardware now chairs the VBA. “We have a pretty good representation of downtown businesses. We focus on what we can do to make the downtown more attractive and build shopping traffic,” said Perry.
The first meeting took place at Bentley’s in 2009 with the goal of initiating a network of Woodstock merchants who were looking to support down town commerce. Over 40 village merchants attended this meeting and there were nearly 20 ideas for community betterment collected on a white board by the end. Chip Evans of The Gallery on the Green facilitated the meeting.
“Chip did a great job whittling down the ideas to the ones everyone could agree on and also gave them priority,” said Perry about the outcome of the meeting.
From this point, a steering committee was formed, consisting of just over a dozen downtown merchants who would then chose a suitable project for the association to raise funds and execute.
“It is easy to complain, but it seems more responsible to do something about it,” said Evans about his involvement in the alliance.
One of the more visible projects was hanging flower baskets on lampposts around the village. Carolyn Kimbell of Elevation clothing suggested the project after noticing a similar scene in New Jersey. Larry Perry followed up, “I actually made a call and talk with New Jersey public works department,” said Perry.
It was not long before the Village trustee okayed the idea and the project began. Perry and the steering committee needed approximately $8,000 to complete their mission along with a few other ideas. The group was able to raise the money and with the help of the Woodstock Garden Club, the village was graced with hanging baskets through out the spring and summer. The VBA asked its cooperating merchants to chip in two hundred dollars each along with the $1500 they received from the Woodstock Garden Club. Over fifty businesses contributed to the cause. There were over a dozen baskets hung from central and Elm Street through to the East End.
Together the alliance has accomplished a number of projects beyond the hanging baskets. They have stenciled trashcans to up curb appeal, supported the Music on the Porch event downtown and organized efforts to get merchants to stay open until 7:00 p.m. in order to accommodate the community more. Many of these businesses have joined forces in advertising as well. “It is amazing how people have stepped up. The goal now is really to keep merchants and business aware of what we’re doing,” said Perry about the alliance’s efforts.
The VBA is going strong and will soon be gearing up for the next round of contributions to the village market place. “It is a necessary thing for businesses to come together,” said Evans about the group’s future efforts.
This article first appeared in the February 17th print edition of the Vermont Standard.