New London Main Street rethinking its downtown role

New London - During the past eight years, New London Main Street has hosted and promoted 16 food strolls downtown, bringing together locals and out-of-towners and promoting the city's bars, restaurants and businesses.

But the organization that has been a mainstay in downtown for 15 years has fewer resources and volunteers, and a staff of two part-time workers, forcing the group to look more at economic enhancement and offering assistance to small business, rather than sponsoring events.

"We are re-looking at our organization,'' said Rene Fournier, president of the board of directors. "Do we reshape our mission? We're still determining that."

Food strolls are important, she said "but we have to look at what's realistic and what we can sustain."

Next Food Stroll is Oct. 16

On Oct. 16, the Fall Food Stroll will kick off at 5:30 p.m. "Tastes" from 27 restaurants will be available and more than 16 retails stores will participate, serving food or highlighting their wares. There will be entertainment throughout the three-hour event.

"Visitors get to experience a lively downtown that is safe, even in the dark, and word continues to spread that downtown New London is a great place to be," said Annah Perch, executive director of Main Street.

But the association is looking to refocus its purpose and aim for the National Main Street Model, which highlights organization, promotion, design and economic enhancement for local businesses, she said.

"I think we want to be less event driven," Perch said, focusing more on things like filling empty storefronts.

"A lot of what Main Street can do, already exists," she said. "We need to make sure we're giving business the tools to succeed."

The $163,000 annual operating budget is funded with memberships, sponsorships, an annual appeal, and foundation grants. The city also contributes about $40,000 a year.

The group will probably continue to have one food stroll a year, rather than two, she said, but it will not run the ice rink, which was set up on The Parade for two winters to try and attract visitors to downtown during the colder months. The rink was well attended the first year but was barely used last year.

Main Street has agreed to help the city sell the synthetic ice rink and accompanying equipment.

"A lot of volunteers did a lot of work to compile everything that goes with the rink," Perch said. Among the ancillary items are ice skates, lubricant for the synthetic ice, hockey uniforms, promotional materials and a sound system.

The entire cost of the project was about $115,000.

Perch said she had inquires from an individual and a private campground that is interested in setting up the rink during the summer.

In 2011, the City Council approved $78,592 for a 45-by-90-foot synthetic skating rink, which was to be open to the public December, January and February. The city purchased the portable rink from Ice Rink Engineer and Manufacturing for $47,860, and the walls to go around the rink from Sports Resource Group for $27,732. Additional money was spent on a sales booth, skates, and a music system.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

If you go

What: Fall Food Stroll 2013

When: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 16

Where: downtown New London

How much: Buttons are available for $20 or $25 in advance and $25 or $30 the day of the event, and are available at www.newlondonmainstreet.org or at the office, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday at 147 State St., and at www.gardearts.org. or at the Garde Arts Center box office, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 325 State St.

What else: Strollers are asked to bring a canned good that will be donated to the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center.

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