LENOX — A Chamber of Commerce plan to expand events in the months ahead and promote them to attract visitors and residents has won a ringing endorsement from the Finance Committee.
To support the plan, the chamber’s executive director, Jennifer Nacht, is seeking Select Board support for a $25,000 increase in the town’s contribution to the business group’s budget, bringing it to $134,000 for the next fiscal year starting July 1. That’s a 23 percent increase from the current $109,000 appropriation.
“It’s a very small amount, but I think it’s important because it’s the driving force of the town and it’s well worth doing,” said Finance Committee Chairman Elliott Morss.
Nacht’s proposal, which covers strategic planning and marketing, had encountered a lukewarm response from some, but not all, Select Board members when she presented it to them last month. The chamber request would be included in the proposed fiscal 2022 budget for action by annual town meeting voters this spring.
The town contribution accounts for 54 percent of the business group’s total budget the rest comes primarily from fees paid by chamber members.
“The best way to drive people to town is to have events, not just for tourists, but also for locals and regional people,” Nacht said. She cited last summer’s return of the weekly farmers market from a series of locations to a prime spot on Housatonic Street in the middle of the business district. It will be there again for the upcoming season, with six additional purveyors and four more weeks for a total of 16 Fridays from May 7 to Oct. 1, from 1 to 5 p.m.
Nacht also signaled the return of the Lenox Apple Squeeze, the major public event during harvest season, although it will be much smaller than in pre-COVID times. Last year, it had to be canceled.
“It will have more of a small-town feel, the way it started,” she said.
The chamber plans to add a spring Art Walk on the first weekend of June — displaying the work of 60 artists — to the previous fall stroll, and the pre-Christmas Lenox Winterland event also will be expanded, with additional miniature trees and a lighting installation on Main Street, based on the successful concept at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home, and Naumkeag in Stockbridge.
Also planned is a return of weekly summertime Sunday evening pop-up concerts by area musicians, as well as a Halloween Ghost Hunt, a potential new event.
“These are the things that warrant the increase,” Nacht pointed out, since the added money would support additional hours for her and Deirdre McKenna, the chamber’s creative services manager. Currently, both are employed 20 hours a week. Extra help also is needed for the scheduled events, she added.
Nacht also has predicted 20 percent loss in annual dues-paying chamber membership because of the pandemic’s economic impact.
In addition to Tanglewood’s six-week season schedule announced last week and the return of a robust outdoor dining scene to the historic village district, the hospitality industry will be aided by the state’s relaxation this week of mandatory quarantine and other requirements for out-of-state visitors to a basic advisory.
Nacht pointed out that five Lenox inns have changed hands in recent months, describing a positive trend as more local businesses have opened than closed during the past year. The total value of those transactions approaches $11 million.
The Finance Committee unanimously approved a motion supporting the Chamber of Commerce’s increased budget, to be presented to the Select Board at this Wednesday’s meeting by committee members who plan to attend the remote 7 p.m. Zoom session.
“It’s important to do this, there are people working hard at it; this is definitely helping,” said committee member Michael Feder.
“You can’t just assume everything’s going to be fine,” he said. “It’s not fine; you actually have to do some stuff. This is important for the future and financial stability of this town, and that ought to be the message.”