Tripp Muldrow, V-DAT project leader, began by examining the logistics of the town’s tourism, showing statistics from a ZIP code survey that featured 687 customer visits in one week to nine Wilmington businesses. The survey found that Wilmington’s tourists came from 406 different ZIP codes in 30 states, as well as three countries. Those surveyed include visitors from Palm Beach, FL, Beverly Hills, CA, and Lauden County, VA. “Consumers of considerable sophistication are coming into this community,” said Muldrow. “Those ZIP codes do not usually show up in these studies.”
Muldrow contrasted tourism’s support of the town with local business traffic, which he said only made up 12% of town business traffic. “It’s amazing to be doing that kind of traffic, while (at the same time) this is the second lowest amount of local traffic we’ve experienced.”
Muldrow pointed out that this means local residents do not stay in Wilmington to do their shopping, a phenomenon he calls “leakage.” “People go to Family Dollar and people go to Shaw’s, but people are also going to Brattleboro. You still stand at less than a quarter of traffic coming from southern Vermont.”
Another example Muldrow gave was Wilmington’s restaurants, which he said would not be able to succeed if not for tourists.
To combat this, Muldrow suggested that efforts be made to buck the trend by creating more locally-centered businesses such as a year-round sporting goods store, and pop-up retailers who use storefronts in town to test a business plan for a period of time. Muldrow also pointed out that cross-pollinating second-home owner and tourist needs with local needs will lead to successful businesses. Examples included were stand-up dining, and a home furnishing store. “ (It’s about) exploring missing pieces and niches,” said Muldrow.
Muldrow named five themes that need to define Wilmington’s revitalization: Cultivating the market, enhancing the experience, preparing assets, motivating investment, and telling the town’s story.
Tom Muldrow gave a presentation on enhancing the experience, beginning by pointing out the town’s many accomplishments over the last two years, including the cooperation of business owners providing easements to improve parking, downtown designation, and the town’s beautification efforts. To enhance the town’s look, Muldrow showed slides of improvements the town can make from “planting trees anywhere you can” to new, brighter, scored concrete sidewalks and providing links with crosswalks. Muldrow also said that simple maintenance of the plethora of architectual styles in town is essential to the overall quality of the Wilmington experience.
“This is your public face, this is who we are,” said Muldrow. “One of the best ways to help a property retain value is to implement regular maintenance.” Another suggestion was to better decorate the windows of, or light up, vacant businesses to make them more welcoming and distract from their vacancy.
To fund these ideas, Tom Muldrow said that there were many avenues including the Vermont Community Foundation, the Downtown Transportation Fund, and the Enterprise Community Loan fund.
Muldrow also said that local initiatives can help fund projects, including facade grants, using the town’s 1% option tax fund, and the Wilmington Fund VT.
The V-DAT team also presented the town with logos and a brand statement: “Historic Wilmington, In the Valley.” “The statement of ‘In the Valley’ connects you to a larger area,” said Tom Muldrow. “It shows your town as part of the puzzle, and does it in a way that makes it a part of your vernacular.”
Corresponding with the brand statement, V-DAT created a design for banners on the town’s lampposts, as well as marketing posters featuring pictures of the town’s most attractive architectural features.
The V-DAT team will be returning in early October to work with Wilmington Works, and again in December and March 2014 to work on implementation of the plan’s individual pieces.