Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Just Common Sense

When malls are designed they usually follow the same time honored plan, they plan for a couple of "anchor stores", big name stores like Sears, or Macy's, to "anchor either end of the mall. This insures good traffic flow into the rest of the mall. Folks don't usually travel to the mall to visit the other stores unless there is something on their list that one of them sells. Yes, there will be those that go specifically to Radio Shack, or to Victoria Secrets, but the anchors usually attract the majority, and then the customers wander about the mall. They may even make a purchase at another store not on their list. The other stores count on this.

For the most part, malls still do well, even with the Internet biting into their customer base, but the plan still works. We need to sit back, and think about how this works, and use it for ourselves.

In Sturbridge we have a few businesses that perennially attract people to town. The Publick House attracts people for annual family dinners and get-a-ways, The Host Hotel attracts a slew of conventioneers, and the Pan Mass Challenge folks, Old Sturbridge Village attracts school kids, and families, many of whom first visited on a school trip. Outside of town, the Brimfield Flea Market draws in thousands three times a year, and as luck would have it, most use Exit 9 and Route 20 to get there.

These businesses and events are anchors. They are well publicized, and draw people from all over with a variety of interests. The smaller businesses in town, those establishments that offer more specific services, need to build off that if they want a piece of the pie. It's that simple.

Business organizations can help support each other, and offer great advice, but the bottom line is if you want to catch a fish, you have to cast your line, and not read a book about it.

Face it, Old Sturbridge Village is now doing what others thought impossible a few years ago, they are re-establishing themselves as a major draw in Central Massachusetts, and in New England. Over the past year, under the new leadership of Jim Donahue, they have increased attendance dramatically, offered new programs, re-established the costumed interpreter program, offered events like opening the Village at night around the Holidays, and most recently, opened the Village for Fourth of July festivities and fireworks.

They are on a roll.

Wal*Mart seems to think so, too. They sponsored the July Fourth celebration. Will they get a return on their donation? Who knows? I don't think that was their purpose. I believe it was to show that they are a community business, and that they support the community. This is far more valuable, not only to them, but for us.

Small shops, and businesses in town need to jump on board this OSV train now. They are the engine that is going to pull the community into a new era. This may mean reevaluating goals, customer base, services offered, advertising for some, but it will be so worth it.

We have a lot to offer in town: lakes, trails, campgrounds, hiking, fishing, boating, canoeing, shopping, a river, history, restaurants, specialty shops. All of these activities, and businesses will see an uptick in their use the more OSV succeeds in attracting numbers to town.

Am I on target? Well, I may not know much about business, but common sense is something I know a great deal about.

And, grabbing the tail of a rising star makes a great deal of sense.

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