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Editorial: When good ideas are done well

That the inaugural Midd Summer Festival drew an overflow crowd of more than 1,500 people to sample cheese, beer, wine and other Vermont-based beverages had organizers and volunteers with the host Better Middlebury Partnership bubbling with excitement. That the unexpectedly large crowds caused longer than expected lines is, all things considered, the best of problems to have and will readily be corrected next year, organizers say.
What’s remarkable is that a good idea done well can have such a positive economic impact on the community.
Bryan Phelps, owner of Noonie’s Deli, came up with the idea and spearheaded the effort, along with a handpicked committee of hardworking volunteers — EJ Bartlett and Holmes Jacobs being two of many who worked tirelessly over the summer to bring this event to fruition. And it didn’t hurt that many Middlebury-area businesses were willing and eager to buy sponsorships, contribute in-kind donations and otherwise do their part to help make this event profitable.
Kudos, then, to the committee and all the volunteers who made the event so successful.
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The takeaway lesson is also worth a moment’s reflection. Just what was the secret of this festival’s success? While that’s a subjective assessment at best, we’ll go out on a limb and make a few educated suppositions:
• First, Better Middlebury Partnership board has been encouraging ad hoc committees to tackle specific events and to take complete control of them: from naming committee members outside of the board (to prevent board burnout), to developing budgets, to handling as much of the marketing and publicity as possible. Self-ownership within the committee creates commitment to the task and a sense of personal responsibility.
• Second, and obviously, strong leadership and the dedicated people on the committees are essential to achieve success.
• Middlebury, as a business community and as a collective body, has been exceptionally supportive of events and initiatives over the past few years. It probably started before construction of the Cross Street Bridge, but when one thinks of that initiative (being willing to tax ourselves for a $7 million bond to pay the town’s share — the college volunteered the other $9 million), and the outpouring of support at the dedication just a year after construction started when more than 4,000 attended the opening and subsequent street party, that certainly stands out as a milestone. But that’s just been a marker in a recent string of successes. The Better Middlebury Partnership’s Winter Carnival and Chili Festival has consistently turned out huge crowds (drawing 3,000 to taste chili on Middlebury’s Main Street this past February) and has been a Top 10 Vermont Chamber of Commerce Event for the past couple of years; the Halloween Spooktacular continues to draw big crowds and delight young children and families; and the annual Merry Middlebury holiday festival meets the expectations of that traditional celebration.
In each instance, commercial sponsors are extremely important in making these events exciting and fun — and, for the most part, they are the unsung heroes that are making these events such a success, as well as all the community members who turn out to participate in all things local.
That last point — simply making the effort to attend local events — including the many other events held throughout the year (Community Players productions, events and shows at the Town Hall Theater, the Festival on-the-Green, library, school and church-related events, and much more) — is doubly important. If the community spirit isn’t there to support such events, those events wither and die.
It’s encouraging to see Middlebury’s community spirit awakened and alive. When we all work together and play together, it makes a wonderful town all that much better. The next effort will be to extend this cooperative spirit into coordinated drive to develop the greater-Middlebury-region’s economy. There is much to be done (including hiring a point person to drive this effort as was supported by a recent summer-long study conducted by the town), but with the right direction we’re confident significant successes are within the town’s grasp once we set our collective wills to the task.

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