By Gordon Dritschilo
Ads and apps are in the works for downtown Rutland in 2018.
About 20 people attended the Downtown Rutland Partnership’s annual meeting at Community College of Vermont last week. The group elected a new president, Michelle Bailey, to take over from outgoing president Glenda Hawley.
Hawley praised the group’s new executive director, Steve Peters, for his outreach to the members, and said member businesses were the most engaged they had been in years. Peters said they were doing particularly well on social media. With more than 5,000 followers, he said the partnership has one of the most high-traffic Facebook pages in the area.
Shannon Poole, a board member and chairwoman of the marketing committee, said plans for the coming year include increasing welcome center displays, resuming advertising on billboards in New York, and developing a smartphone app to serve as a downtown directory.
Nikki Hindman, the DRP’s marketing and events coordinator, said they were adding more food vendors for Friday Night Live — and they did not believe the vendors would compete with the sit-down dining offered by restaurants. The DRP is also looking to enforce the smoking ban during downtown events, and make sidewalk sales into standalone events rather than piggy-backing off Friday Night Live.
Ruthellen Weston, of the Bookmobile, asked for the membership to be notified of marketing committee meetings, and said she would like to see special events in the spring and fall, which she said are challenging times for local retailers.
“No one is downtown,” she said. “This whole year has been much worse than usual. … Our best day of sidewalk sales has been removed. That’s the one event that really helps retail. … We really need something going on to get people down there. Once they’re down there, they spend money.”
Poole said they were discussing additional events throughout the year. Peters also said that while the partnership was limited in its ability to organize downtown events for other organizations, they had put together an “event guide” to help such groups.
Alderman William Gillam, who works at the Holiday Inn, said there ought to be some sort of resource directed at local hotels.
“We can’t get people to come downtown because our front desk people are not familiar with that, and we have turnover all the time,” he said.
Gillam suggested the partnership consider emulating state tourism officials, who send an email newsletter directly to hotels. He also noted that the downtown crosswalks were overdue for a painting.
“Is there a way we can accelerate that?” he asked.
“Talk to an aldermen,” fellow Alderman Chris Ettori replied.
Finally, Gillam said he had recently become one of the organizers for the annual Loyalty Day parade, and that he believed that could be built into a major event again, bookending the warm-weather season opposite the Halloween Parade.