Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce
Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce
There are few, if any, places in the country more representative of America’s historical ethos than Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was in Plymouth that the Pilgrims, having set sail across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in order to flee religious persecution in England, landed in 1620 and established the second successful English settlement in North America (predated only by Jamestown, Virginia, founded in 1607). In the years that followed, Plymouth played host to some of the most prominent events in early American history, including the 1621 harvest festival that has come to be remembered as the “First Thanksgiving.”
Known as “America’s Hometown,” Plymouth is a major tourism destination. Just 40 miles south of Boston, on Massachusetts’ South Shore, Plymouth is home to such historically-charged points of interest as Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Plantation, the Mayflower II, and the Pilgrim Hall Museum. But modern-day Plymouth is so much more than just “the place with the Pilgrims”; today, it’s a cultural hotspot with a vibrant downtown district, a thriving local economy, and beautiful natural scenery.
“Plymouth is definitely now, I would say, the destination for people that live on the South Shore,” explained Bob Nolet, Director of Communications and Events for the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce. “Before, a lot of people would head north and go towards Boston. But Plymouth has so much to offer now—or, I should say, it has even more to offer now, especially the downtown district.”
The distinction between “Plymouth: Before” and “Plymouth: Today” that Nolet makes is an important one, as it speaks to the transformation the community has undergone just in the last few years. In 2014, for example, a significant portion of the area’s downtown was designated as a Massachusetts cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Commission (MCC). The definition of a cultural district, according to the MCC, is “a downtown area with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets … [that] serves as a magnet for artistic and economic activity.”
“It’s a designation for the region which is pretty important for the tourism industry,” said Amy Naples, Chief Operating Officer for the Plymouth Area Chamber.
The local economy has experienced some improvement in recent years, too: “Our downtown doesn’t have a single open storefront, whereas five or six years ago, that wasn’t necessarily the case,” explained Nolet. The staff at the Plymouth Area Chamber has been carving out time for multiple ribbon cuttings each week, and as of right now, the local economy is strong enough to support 50 different restaurants, all within a two-mile radius of each other. To the untrained eye, the transformation that downtown Plymouth has undergone in recent years might not be instantly recognizable. It happened gradually, after all, the tangible impacts on the average person’s day-to-day life so subtle, that it is unlikely anyone noticed a profound difference in downtown Plymouth from any one single day to the next.
With one exception, that is.
As is the case for most any nonprofit institution, securing funds can sometimes pose a challenge to the Plymouth Area Chamber. In previous years, the chamber had received economic development grants from the state of Massachusetts. That funding stream, however, dried up last year, when state funds were instead directed to designated “gateway cities,” formally defined as “midsize urban centers … fac[ing] stubborn social and economic challenges” resulting from the loss of manufacturing jobs. Plymouth, with its vibrant downtown and expanding economy, did not qualify as a gateway city. To compensate for the consequent budget gap, the staff at the Plymouth Area Chamber did what anyone in their position would do: they brought in the giant lobsters.
Five foot-tall, fiberglass lobsters, specifically.
The lobsters, of which there are 29 in total, are a public arts display; a community tourism project; and a creative way of filling in the kind of budget gap that plagues so many chambers of commerce, all rolled into one. Here’s how the project worked: a different local business sponsored each lobster which, in turn, was painted by a local artist. The chamber staff took care of everything else: from the permitting process (a lengthy endeavor, by the way, in a town with as many historical sites as Plymouth, Massachusetts), to the installation—to winning over the Plymouth Area Chamber’s board of selectmen. “We understood [their hesitation],” Nolet said, referring to the board’s reticence. “It’s hard to envision a five foot-tall, painted lobster at a major intersection, until you actually see it in the setting.”
The lobsters have since become a community highlight, and it’s not uncommon to see people out snapping photos with a number of them on any given day. “It absolutely beautifies so much and so many areas, especially areas that didn’t have any art in [them], or parts of town that, you wouldn’t say they’re forgotten, but maybe a lot of people didn’t travel to,” Nolet explained. “It’s now bringing people throughout the whole town.”
Most remarkably, Nolet added, is the way in which the lobsters have forged a connection between Plymouth’s downtown district, and its waterfront district. Nolet said that it’s not there ever was necessarily a division between the two, but that people visiting the area tended either to spend all their time downtown, or all their time on the waterfront. “With this project, it brings them to both [districts],” he said, “because people can literally walk them all.”
There’s a sort of underlying sensibility to the lobster project that perfectly encapsulates the Plymouth Area Chamber’s approach to so much of the work that it does: lead the business community by serving the community at large.
Take, for example, one of the chamber’s fastest-growing events, Halloween on Main. For this event, local merchants in downtown Plymouth give out candy on Halloween, providing a safe trick-or-treating environment for families, particularly those with small children. Nolet noted that last year, the event drew 3,000 attendees, and every year, that number only gets bigger. Last year, 70 different merchants participated in the event, many of which decorated their storefronts or turned their shops into haunted houses.
The event is open to members and nonmembers, and while the Plymouth Area Chamber did get some new members enrolled as a result of last year’s Halloween On Main, “the goal is to provide something for the community, the kids and families,” Nolet said. The staff at the Plymouth Area Chamber also gets in on the fun, doling out candy themselves and sponsoring an online costume contest as well.
Halloween On Main is, perhaps not surprisingly, great for business: “The number one thing we hear is parents saying, ‘I never knew this store was even here,’” Nolet explained. “Or, ‘I’ve lived in Plymouth my whole life and I’ve never gone into this art gallery’; ‘I’ve never gone into this clothing store. I’m so glad I did today.’ So anything we can do hear at the chamber, event-wise, that can also help our members, is what we do.”
Events like Halloween On Main, and community projects like the lobster installation, speak to the Plymouth Area Chamber’s commitment not only to advancing the goals of the business community, but also to enhancing the overall quality of life for community members in the process.
“I think you just need to look at the whole picture, especially of the community that you’re in, and just kind of look at what you can do differently that can help your chamber, and also, in return, help all of your member businesses and your community as well,” Nolet said. “So we do a lot, and it reaches all different aspects, from business owners to families and everything in between.”
For more information on the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce, visit www.plymouthchamber.com