By Brian McFadden
What’s the Chamber up to these days? That’s a question I get asked a lot by homeowners I cross paths with. And while it’s a valid question, it also makes me realize that while our Chamber members and Board of Directors have a good handle on our activities, we need to do a better job of sharing what we are doing for you, the homeowner, to make Ellicottville the exciting, vibrant and constantly evolving community that it is today.
While you have a pretty good idea of where we’re at now in terms of what’s going on in town, it wouldn’t hurt to take a moment to reflect on how we started out. Or another way of putting it, what I saw when I took on the role of Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce over 20 years ago. Back then, Ellicottville was a ski town that got busy on weekends in the winter months, thanks to Holiday Valley and HoliMont, and pretty much shut down or went into ‘summer hibernation’ after the ski season. Businesses struggled to stay open and pay the bills until fall festival and then until ski season.
Our solution, then and now, was to transform Ellicottville into a true four-season community by putting “Feet on the Street,” which is precisely what we’ve done. Ellicottville now attracts as many overnight visitors during the ‘green season’ as the winter ski season… in fact some years more. And the number one reason for that? Festivals and events. In 20 years, we’ve gone from just a few festivals to an impressive line up of 12 events, from the Summer Music Festival, to the Girls Getaway Weekend, to the ever-popular Fall Festival. Festivals have also been the catalyst to attract wedding and conference groups and new homeowners. Increasing our non-ski season visitor base was what has allowed our resorts and developers to add more activities in the green seasons.
To make all this possible, every year we work diligently behind the scenes to raise money in the form of membership dues (about 9 percent of our operating income), grants, sponsorships and event income, to be able to accomplish our goals as the “Destination Management Organization” for Ellicottville. Without those funds, we simply wouldn’t be the community we are today. And if it weren’t for Fall Festival – by far our biggest money maker— many of the smaller free events would not take place. (Here’s a small aside as well, because I realize there are mixed feelings about this event. Fall Festival finances most of our other events and part of our annual advertising campaign.) Fall Festival also goes a long way to helping other local not for profits raise over $75,000 each year for their local activities. It really is the machine that drives everything else. This is also true now, and in the past, for our business community members.
Anyway, to answer the first question – what’s the Chamber up to? More times than not, what we’re up to is getting ready for the next festival operationally and from a marketing perspective. Why? Because festivals and events are the number one reason folks travel after business and friends and family and this is essentially why we have been able to transform Ellicottville into the vibrant, action-packed community that it is today. For many homeowners, they’re what brought you here in the first place. And then not unlike myself, you fell in love with the town.
So how do you as a homeowner actually benefit from the festivals and events? Look for some of the answers to that in the next part of this three-part series: Getting Feet on the Street.