Last weekend Bennington was Race Number 5 at Willow Park for the East Coast Snocross circuit. Although we saw highs of 60 degrees on those two days, the team at Snocross did not fail to deliver. With over 300 hours of snowblowing taking place in advance to create the track, spectators were 'wowed' as snowmobiles climbed into the air over the hills and jumps created.
As the Chamber looks to evolve our events and programs, we're thinking more collaboratively about our approach to provide events for the community and visitors. Being somewhat transparent here, we simply do not have the resources, capacity, or volunteer-base to continually put on the terrific success of Garlicfest multiple times a year all by ourselves. Planning for Garlicfest begins in January for a Labor Day/September Weekend Event. Think of the effort, resources, muscle, and attention that requires!
Not being able to provide ten new Garlicfest events every year will require our staff, members and volunteers to think outside of the box as we still believe it's a great concept. One area that we are exploring as a way to continue to offer great events and fun entertainment is the idea of partnering with other entities and providing support. The Chamber has a long history, having put on Prowls, Carshows, and the like, of creating very entertaining, highly organized and efficient events. We know the players, we know the spaces and we know how to 'rally the troops.' This is extremely helpful to other interested groups, associations or "producers" especially not familiar with the region.
Now, before we get 100 requests to partner with your event, I will caution you that we want to know what "skin in the game" a producer of an event is willing to provide (be it financial, volunteers, resources, venue, etc.). We are currently working on a system that will allow us to weed out the 'spinners' of weak events and capitalize with those that can really produce.
As we look at what Snocross did and what it could do if it returns, I asked my staff to follow up with local members, mainly lodging and restaurants, of the Chamber to see how they were affected by the weekend. A disclaimer here that it was a very busy weekend in Bennington with high school and college games providing foot traffic as well. I am happy to report the following:
• Madison Brewing reported that they were up compared to last year. Saturday and Sunday saw a 10% increase in sales and over 370 dinners served on Friday. Owner Mel Madison said he was, "very happy and everything was good!"
• Kevin's Restaurant saw a bump in sales as they noticed "new faces" and people with wristbands from the event coming in.
• Ramunto's Pizza, who hosted the food and beer tent at the event, also was very busy both in the day and night with a lot of new faces. They hope it happens next year.
• Jensen's was very busy and thought the event helped them a lot.
• Benner's Pizza was also very busy. Usually February is a slow time of the year for them, but they thought the event influenced their bump.
• Publyk House was very busy with over 250 dinners served on Saturday and Sunday, a 40% increase on their normal weekend sales around this time of year. They noticed a lot of people from Massachusetts, Williamstown, Albany and North Adams.
• Two Brews was busy also noticing a lot of wrist bands and ski attire.
• Bennington Motor Inn was sold out on Friday and Saturday. The owner said tourists liked the snow event and he noticed first time visitors from Canada who booked 7 rooms.
• Best Western was sold out on Friday and more than three quarters sold out on Saturday.
• Hampton Inn had about 40 rooms booked for the snow event and although tourists said weather was not ideal, they enjoyed their trip to Bennington. All visitors were from out of state.
• The Harwood Hill (formerly Harwood Hill Motel) was fully booked.
• Paradise Inn, another sponsor of the event, had half or more stay for the event and were pleased overall.
Overall, the tone was pretty good for the weekend and Snocross's influence. I realize I might have bias here and mention more of the success stories, but to think that in February, in a dismal winter season, we could help some of our local businesses get a little bump. Well, that just makes this job worth it.
We won't be able to be everything to everyone. We won't be able to put on every event or program everyone wants to see. Some events are going to cater to a certain type of industry, while hopefully others will cater to another type. We need to begin to think "yes" before quickly saying "no." "Yes, let's give it a shot." "That sounds different, but let's explore it." This is how the Chamber and other entities in town will become agile, nimble and adaptable in the new world.
Thank you to Snocross and future events that help Bennington hum and churn with entertainment, commerce and a sense of community!
— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.