Downtown Middlebury trying to draw customers

MIDDLEBURY — A slate of activities aimed at drawing shoppers into downtown Middlebury this summer during the massive rail bridges project have been canceled due to social distancing requirements related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the pop-up store “Bundle” at 51 Main St. has closed — again due to the coronavirus.

But the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP) and the citizens group “Neighbors, Together,” are now organizing supports for downtown merchants that aren’t dependent on large crowds. They include a series of challenges that encourage shoppers to support local stores, restaurants and lodgers through the purchase of gift cards, meals and other activities.

“Due to the ongoing pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings, Neighbors Together has had to pivot away from the weekly celebrations and shopping/dining incentive plans that were slated for the construction period, and instead focus on creating promotions that don't rely on large numbers of community members in the same place at the same time,” said BMP Executive Director Karen Duguay. “We tried to make these promotions accessible to everyone regardless of their comfort level — if someone wants to support a local business but doesn't want to go inside, they can order a gift card over the phone or get take out, etc.”

The Vermont Agency of Transportation awarded the town of Middlebury a combined total of more than $200,000 to plan events, advertising, prizes and social media campaigns to draw shoppers into a downtown challenged by a $73 million effort to replace that Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges with a 360-foot tunnel. That tunnel is due to be installed late this summer, and the work will force detours and other inconveniences to residents, merchants and shoppers.

Neighbors Together had assembled a big list of promotional activities, including block parties and seasonal events featuring rewards for those who shop downtown. Instead, organizers have put together a series of promotions that will allow folks to support downtown businesses from a distance. Duguay said the town has $160,000 in state grant money left to use until June 30, 2021.

They new activities include:

Gift Card Challenge: 6/15-6/19 

Purchase as many gift cards as possible from your favorite Middlebury businesses June 15-19 and enter to win one of ten, $100 Middlebury Money prizes. Check ExperienceMiddlebury.com for a list of participating businesses and more details about the challenge. Organizers will collect names from the participating businesses and pool them for a random drawing of 10 names. Winners will be announced on ExperienceMiddlebury.com on Wednesday, June 24th.

Middlebury Love Campaign: 6/26-7/4 

Show your love for our community by posting pictures of you or family members loving Middlebury. It might be a picture of your dog enjoying the dog park, a child getting a creemee, a photo of the waterfalls... Whatever you love about Middlebury is eligible. Post your photo on social media with the #lovemiddlebury to be entered. If you aren't comfortable posting but still want to enter, you can do so by emailing your photo to lovemiddlebury@gmail.com. All entries will be combined and 10 names will be pooled for $25 in Middlebury Money. 

Let's Pig Out! 7/10-7/19 

Eat at any Middlebury restaurant in that date range and email your receipt to enter to win one of three $500 Midd Money prizes. Organizers will pool all the receipts; enter multiple times for multiple restaurant visits. Take out is also included. Just send your receipt and name to lovemiddlebury@gmail.com to enter. 

Hidden Gems 7/26-8/8 

Duguay & Co. will be hiding small gems around the downtown for kids to find in that date range. They can pick up a bag and directions/map outside of the Main Street branch of the National Bank of Middlebury and then get hunting. At the end of the promotions, they can choose to keep their gemstones or turn them in for $10 of Middlebury Money. Turn-in details are still being worked out. Kids will also receive a gemstone from shopping at downtown stores during that time.

Gift Baskets 8/15-8/29

Organizers will raffle off 10 themed gift baskets full of locally purchased products worth $250 each-. To enter, shop locally and upload your receipt of at least $25 with the name of the basket you are entering. There’s no limit on number of times you can enter as long as they are different purchases of at least $25 each. 

The “Let’s Pig Out challenge” will be repeated Sept. 4-13, as will the “Gift Card Challenge” during the week of Sept. 21-25.

Meanwhile, BMP and Neighbors Together officials are looking for an outdoor venue in the downtown area that could replicate the purpose of Bundle, at which local workshops, retail operations and special events were held to drive more commerce into the downtown. Anyone with ideas about this should contact Duguay at bettermiddleburypartnership.org. As always, check out experiencemiddlebury.com and addisonindependent.com for the latest.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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