By Katy Savage
WOODSTOCK — The streets of Woodstock are busier than ever this summer, but the Woodstock Economic Development Commission is looking toward the future.
The EDC board voted 6-2 on Thursday, Aug. 5 to spend $110,000 on a marketing firm to bring more visitors, businesses and residents to town.
The board agreed to hire Class Four, a firm in Burlington, to film and photograph 12 events in Woodstock over 10 months, which will be used on future social media promotions and marketing campaigns.
The proposal will now go to the Woodstock Select Board for approval.
The proposal comes at a time when EDC member Patrick Fulz, the owner of Sleep Woodstock, and other business owners said they are at capacity. Fultz said his motel has been sold out on weekdays — something he hasn’t seen in his eight years of ownership.
“It’s just not normal traffic flow,” Fultz said in an interview outside of the meeting. “I’m calling it revenge travel. People couldn’t do anything for 1 years and now they are.”
But Fultz said the traffic won’t last.
“This traffic we’re having right now is foliage traffic, it’s just insane,” Fultz said. “There’s no way this will be sustained and everyone knows that.” Class Four was selected from 10 proposals after showing it had the most in-house capabilities.
Class Four is co-founded by Charles Kahn, whose father, Jeff, owns the Unicorn gift shop in Woodstock.
Jeff Kahn echoed Fultz in saying the increased traffic is temporary. “We’ve been busy and I knew we would be because of this pent up demand,” Khan said. “This won’t last, I know it won’t last. We’re trying to construct something that will work for years to come.”
EDC member Mica Seely anticipated there would be some pushback from the community about the expenditure.
“I don’t think everybody’s looking at the bigger picture,” she said at the meeting.
There was also concern among board members about the timing of hiring a marketing firm.
EDC members Michael Malik and Joe DiNatale voted against the proposal.
DiNatale said the town wasn’t ready for marketing and pointed to other areas of concern, like the lack of restaurants, housing and diverse stores.
“We’re lacking in a lot of areas,” he said. “We don’t have housing for staff or anyone else that wants to come.” Meanwhile, Malik said he’d rather see the money help current businesses.
“I’m not in support of it because as a consumer, what brings me to places is not direct marketing, it’s the fact that there’s something to do,” Malik said.
EDC chair Jon Spector said the platform would be built over 10 months, though he stressed marketing efforts wouldn’t begin until they’re needed.
“We won’t go to market if we can’t handle the volume,” Spector told his colleagues. “I think we can all agree that at some point in our lives, we’re going to need it.”
The EDC’s budget comes from Woodstock’s 1% option tax, which declined about 30% from 2019 to 2020, to about $200,000. The budget for Class Four would be spread over three years.
This isn’t the first time an outside company has been hired to market Woodstock. The EDC hired Boston-based Warner Communications for $70,000 in 2016. Warner brought travel writers and bloggers to town after committing to 30 news stories and 1,000 print and digital articles in a one-year period.
The public relations campaign was deemed largely unsuccessful.
“Some people are having a sour taste from when they did the PR program,” Fultz said.
But Fultz, who founded a digital marketing agency of his own, said what Class Four is proposing is different. “Nobody’s put together a sustained marketing effort that was from a measurable standpoint,” he said. “We wanted to develop a library of images and videos we could use moving forward for social media.”
Beth Finlayson, the executive director of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, agreed that a marketing firm was needed. She said she routinely sends national and international publications the same picture of the Woodstock Middle Bridge.
EDC member Todd Ullman said the town needed to invest now to “go gangbusters” on marketing when it’s ready.
The EDC discussed putting a presentation together to inform the Select Board’s vote.