Workshop series closes with talk on running downtown events


BENNINGTON -- Run events like a business and don't expect people to shop while attending parades and concerts were just a few pieces of advice given to local planners at a downtown and village revitalization workshop held Tuesday.

Much of what Leanne Tingay, downtown program director for the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, had to say was about how to approach events, but she touched on branding, sponsorships, and cooperative advertising as well.

The type of events she spoke of were festival days and the like. Bennington's Garlic and Herb Festival was mentioned, as was Brattleboro's Strolling of the Heifers. The workshop included a panel consisting of Joann Erenhouse, executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, Berta Maginniss, of the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce, Jerry Goldberg, representing the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, and The Commons newspaper, and Lisa Sullivan of the Mt. Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"The idea is to bring people downtown or in to the heart of your community," said Tingay.

Events fall into different types, local, retail, cultural, art, local festivals, and regional tourism events.

Some events are intended specifically to get people into stores, others are to foster a sense of community identify or draw a certain group to town.

"Oftentimes you have to start small and grow the event," she said.

Keeping the event sized correctly, not over-booking, and giving it an identity are keys to holding a successful one, she said.

"I can't stress this enough, when I was a local downtown director, and I've been in this business for 20 years, tight budget controls were the most important thing," said Tingay. "I never lost money on an event, knock on wood when I say that."

The ultimate goal of the event may not be direct profit, but costs and revenue must be considered. "But certainly if it's losing money, then why in the heck are you doing it?" she said. The benefits of a money-losing event have to be carefully weighed as do methods of cost control.

Of parades and concerts she said they are fine things to do, but no one should expect them to draw people into stores.

"You will never get shopping. The two do not mix, okay? You ask any retailer when there's a parade day. Parade day, as far as any commerce, stinks. It just does, sorry, it just does," she said.

People turn out for parades in large numbers but they go home once the event is done without stopping to shop. It's similar with concerts, Tingay said. A good rule of thumb is events people bring lawn chairs to tend not to end with people walking to stores.

"I'm not saying don't do those things, just have your expectations in check," she said.

Her other points were about sponsorships and cooperative advertising. Event planners should research who they want to ask for sponsorships and think about what the sponsor will get out of the deal. Local businesses also often have cause to seek advertising opportunities together.

The workshop was attended by approximately 30 people, some of them from economic development groups, the town, and Select Board. A few were local business owners.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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