A walk around Camelot Village to see the Southern Vermont Art and Craft Festival, a vendor reception at the BBC's fountain park, a boy's amazement at the sight of a tattooed man doing a head stand at the Bennington Museum's Tattoo 2 Exhibit, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy as another First Friday came and went, music echoed through a summer night from one side of Main Street to another, the merriment of tasting an array of home brewed beer as travelers from all over come to visit, friends laughing, new friends meeting - the sights, sounds, and smells of Bennington could not escape me as we celebrated another Bennington Arts Weekend.
Upon reflection it's sometimes easy to forget just how good we have it here. Over the past week we've welcomed three new homeowners to the area from Chicago and other areas of the U.S. We've had old friends stop into the Chamber – they used to live here, moved away, and have come back to peek into Bennington to see how it's going. I asked one couple who recently moved here point blank, "Why Bennington?" Even though its sounds like a broken record to us now, they replied, "quality of life."
Another visitor over the weekend said, "We keep an eye on Bennington and all that has been going on. We feel a momentum moving in Bennington and it's exciting to watch."
The real quandary for Bennington is perhaps how do we hold on to our traditions, our values, and our old way of life and yet, be able to change and adapt for a new generation that wants new things. It can get muddy, icky, and awkward. It's the stuff that good friends can sit at one of our local breweries and argue for hours. "We should do this," or "We should do that." But the truth is, if you talk to just about anyone coming through for an Art Weekend or just to explore Vermont, Bennington is doing just fine. It has a beautiful downtown. One person honestly said, "Is this a fake downtown that you all set up as an attraction?" Of course we said no, this is just our downtown.
Many people visiting recognize that we are still a nation healing from a massive recession. They know their own hometowns are struggling and trying to acclimate to a new order of things in this hyper-tech, election-year, money-strapped America. Perhaps they're more forgiving, less harsh on our Bennington then we locals are. But that's okay; it shows we care. We want only the best for our Bennington. We want people to come here and fall in love with it just as we did. So take a moment, even though there is much more work to be done, and know that a flood of visitors came this weekend and saw the Bennington that we aspire to be. They too fell in love with it.
— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.