What can the Bennington Chamber do for Northshire?

MANCHESTER — A small group of Northshire business owners and interested parties gathered at Hildene on Thursday to hear what Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Matt Harrington had to say about what his organization can do for them.

The occasion was a listening session, at which Harrington and Linda Benway, president of The Shires of Vermont Regional Marketing Organization, laid out the case for the revamped area guide.

That publication, due to be released in May, will feature a significant change: The word "Bennington" is no longer the headline on the cover. Instead, it's "The Shires of Vermont," and Bennington and Manchester share equal billing for a publication that will be twice the size of last year's guide and distribute 70,000 copies throughout the region, Harrington said.

The name change was "a big step," Harrington said.

The Shires RMO felt the Chamber was "uniquely qualified" to handle the area guide, Benway said. The group "feels that it is important to have Northshire representation in this publication in order to showcase all the Northshire has to offer."

At one point, Harrington and Benway unfolded maps — one from the existing Bennington Chamber guide, and a much larger one from a Shires publication that shows more Manchester-area detail — to illustrate how the guide's expanded reach could benefit the entire region.

Attendees included hotel owners and retailers such as Nick Monte of the Village Peddler and Chocolatorium in East Arlington, Daniela Stewart of Pillar to Post Home Inspections in Dorset and Jean Kurpiel of the Honora Winery in Jacksonville.

Kurpiel said she's interested in the guide because she's in a more remote location between Brattleboro and Bennington and wants to draw more visitors to the winery.

"I'm totally in agreement," Monte said of the visitor's guide reboot . He said as an Arlington business, he sees a need to market himself in Manchester, "but at the same time make sure there's something in place to take care of me in Bennington."

A month ago, the Bennington Chamber's "2020 Vision" campaign launched with an announcement that the organization was interested in building its membership in the Northshire, to help fill the vacuum resulting from the demise of the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce.

Since then, about 12 Manchester-area businesses have joined the Chamber, Harrington said. He also said his organization has had a positive relationship with the newly-formed Manchester Business Association and very much wants to see that continue.

While he'd like to see more members from Manchester joining up, Harrington said the initiative is off a good start.

"[Manchester] is a wait-and-see group," he said. "Bennington is the same way."

"I think a lot of Vermonters are pragmatists," he added. "They need to see the return on investment. So we're trying to approach this the way a small business would."

The Chamber is looking forward to holding more events in Manchester and is holding a seat open on its board of directors for a Manchester-area representative, Harrington said. He also said he wouldn't be surprised if at some point in the future, the Chamber adopts the Shires name to reflect its wider reach.

"We need Manchester people at the table to make that argument," he said.

Another listening session is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. at Ramunto's at 519 Main St. in Bennington.

Greg Sukiennik can be reached at 802-490-6000 or on Twitter @GSukiennik_MJ.


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