MBA, Bennington chamber working together on visitor center
MANCHESTER — With its retail outlets, boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants, Manchester has long been an important cog in Bennington County as a vacation destination. But more recently, the Manchester brand has been promoted by the Manchester Business Association in an effort to boost tourism even further.
The MBA was established in 2016 after the permanent closure of the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce.
According to economic development officer Pauline Moore, membership plummeted once the chamber was no longer able to provide health insurance to its members.
"A lot of the members dropped off," Moore said. "And when they dropped off, it was hard for the chamber to survive."
MBA head Paul Carroccio, who is also the CEO of TPW Real Estate, said a group of local business owners believed there was a need to continue the chamber's work.
"There was a need to continue to market — or to start marketing — the Manchester brand and what the community had to offer," Carroccio said. "We started off just talking about what we could do that was organized and didn't cost a whole lot of money but got a lot of results in terms of bringing traffic and visitors into town."
Over the past three years, the MBA has set up an official Manchester website for tourists, maintained a town Instagram account and run a visitor center located on Depot Street.
Some Manchester residents, however, have voiced complaints about the visitor center's limited hours, which is staffed partly by volunteers.
"The MBA's sole purpose is to bring more visitors and help visitors become more informed of the Manchester community," Carroccio said. "We want to be able to open the visitor center for more hours, but we need to raise more money to support our local businesses, our donors, so that we can have a staff during the week."
Though Manchester supports some 150 businesses, only 81 are members of the MBA's — just more than half of those available.
"All of the MBA board members have spent company hours in the visitor center over the past few years, and everybody has their own businesses, so it's been really
challenging to get consistent coverage through volunteers," Carroccio explained. "We don't have an executive director, we're all volunteer board members, so we can't support a real staff. The non-member businesses in town want it to be staffed more, but we need more money to fund it."
According to Matt Harrington, Executive Director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, the Manchester visitor center is staffed part time by representatives from the Bennington Area Chamber, which has served Manchester since the local chamber's closure, which Carroccio appreciates.
"Our relationship with the chamber is really good it's doing a lot of good for the community, so there's a lot of positive energy going on there," Carroccio said.
"They're beginning to really get momentum. They're working with the Bennington Chamber because Manchester is unique in Bennington County — we are really a destination, and have been a destination for a long time. We have a lot to offer," added Moore.
But, she continued, "we also need our neighbors: we don't have a theater, for example, so we rely on Dorset and Weston."
"We are ultimately stronger together," agreed Harrington via email.
According to Carroccio, while the visitor center remains a top priority, the MBA's primary goal is to attract as many people as possible to the Manchester community. "Our role is to hopefully bring more visitors, who maybe even become residents and buy a home in the community," he said. "We plan to continue with the website, continue with the digital marketing, continue with the visitor center and we'd love to have more members participating. We've had some criticisms, but so far it seems like nobody wants us to go away. People seem to want more."
"I think it's hugely important that the MBA succeeds, because the Bennington Area Chamber looks at the entire Bennington County, and we seem to have a unique place in that county," Moore said. "My hope is that they continue to work together; we don't have everything that tourists or residents want, but the region does. It's important to market Manchester, but it's also important to market the region."
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