By Katy Savage
It’s been five years since Vermont made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for its “full blown” heroin problem.
National news organizations like the New York Times highlighted Rutland in particular, with its increased crime rate and drug crisis.
“I get there was article after article about Rutland being the heroin capital,” said Robert Maguire, the owner of Rutland Appliances. “For a large part, Rutland has put that behind us.”
Maguire nominated Rutland for Independent We Stand’s 2019 “America’s Main Streets” contest, hoping to highlight some of the improvements. On April 29, Rutland was voted to the top 25 list of the best downtowns in the nation. If Rutland wins, the city will receive $25,000 to better its downtown.
“I was a little surprised, but honestly, when I thought about it—this is what Rutland does,” Maguire said. “We’re Rutland. We’re great.”
Since the negative attention, several groups have formed to turn Rutland’s message around.
“I think it woke some people up,” said spokesperson James Schneider. “I think that’s changing everything.”
The Downtown Business Partnership was created about two years ago to grow and support the fluctuating downtown business economy.
“We have a wonderful downtown,” Downtown Partnership Executive Director Steve Peters said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase that to a national audience.”
The Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce also launched its “Real Rutland” marketing campaign in 2017 with video ads to entice more people to move to Rutland.
Chamber Executive Director Mary Cohen said 11 families have moved to Rutland since the campaign began.
“We knew the initial task was to sell Rutland to Rutland,” Cohen said. “Our marketing campaign started with that premise. A lot of our initial dollars went to marketing right here and making people realize—we do live in a beautiful place.”
Cohen said the “bad news” about Rutland has been buried with positive news on the internet. She hopes it stays that way. Cohen wasn’t surprised Rutland had been voted one of the nation’s best downtowns.
“This is a really great community that pulls together when asked,” Cohen said. “I think we have potential to win it.”
Maguire heard about the contest through a trade show he attended in February. He submitted a 300 word essay, highlighting the historic nature of Rutland and the city’s unique events and businesses, like the Halloween Parade, night sledding on Center Street, WinterFest, the historic Paramount Theatre and the Downtown Farmers Market—the state’s oldest farmer’s market.
Maguire partnered with Intrepid Athletics founder Natalie Boyle to promote Rutland in the contest.
“We’ve always been a very community-minded organization and we wanted to see Rutland just be better,” Boyle said. “We’ve gotten a lot of bad press. We have always chosen to think about the things that are right with Rutland, not the things that are wrong about it.”
Nearly 230,000 total votes were cast for 232 entrants during the nominations phase. Rutland was one of two Vermont towns that made the list. Montpelier was voted to the top 25 list along with one other New England town—Saco, Maine.
Boyle said Rutland has unique assets that set it apart from other towns.
“The atmosphere in our downtown is different,” Boyle said. “A lot of downtowns seem very cookie cutter to me. If you go to our downtown, it’s very eclectic. It’s a little more spread out.”
Semifinalist voting began online April 29 at mainstreetontest.com. Voting continues through May 26.
The top 10 semi finalists will be announced May 27. The winner of the 2019 “America’s Main Streets” contest will be announced June 3 followed by a “Main Streets Make Us Better” celebration on July 4, when the winner will announce how they plan to use the prize money.
Maguire said the prize money would be used to enhance downtown, but he’s said not revealing the specifics yet.