Wayne County Weekends is a simple idea that promises a big payoff.
It’s the brainchild of the Buy Local Committee of the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce.
Last year, the group was looking for “some ways to reinvigorate the Buy Local program,” said committee chair and chamber board member Sam Purcell, co-owner of Ply Fiber Arts in Richmond.
Too often, Purcell said, Buy Local campaigns go into a “negative place,” where people are made to feel guilty for not patronizing local businesses. “Those kinds of methods aren’t successful,” she said.
The committee wanted to inspire people to feel pride in buying locally and to show them that “it’s easier than the average person realizes,” said Purcell.
That got them thinking about what makes so many shoppers go outside the county to spend their dollars. And they kept coming back to the same thing: “The stigma that there’s nothing to do in Wayne County.”
What was particularly frustrating to the committee is that there’s lots to do in Wayne County – the summer is filled with community festivals, special events, and activities for all ages and a variety of interests.
There’s live theater and music, air shows and car shows, family fun and great date night opportunities. “You can’t keep up with the things that are going on,” said Susan Yaeger, executive director of the Model T Ford Club of America and Richmond’s Model T Museum.
So the committee started exploring ways to open people’s eyes to what’s available. Member Jeff Huffine, co-owner and principal at IronGate Creative in Hagerstown, said it boiled down to one question: “How can we basically create a buzz in Wayne County?”
The result is Wayne County Weekends, a campaign of radio spots, social media, online and print materials promoting summer activities and encouraging folks to explore the possibilities.
“In essence, Wayne County Weekends provides free marketing,” said Ed DeLaPaz, Director of Marketing and Communication at the chamber. “The more we promote, the more we get the word out, the broader the reach will be.”
Wayne County Weekends began in the summer of 2017. Each of the four largest towns in the county was assigned a weekend that was “theirs.”
Richmond businesses already celebrated First Fridays with special sales and events, so the city was given the first weekend of the month. Cambridge City got the second weekend, Hagerstown the third, and Centerville the fourth. This summer’s schedule is similar but a bit more flexible, allowing for promotion of festivals or performances that fall outside the pattern. Also in 2018, events in Milton and Fountain City are included in Wayne County Weekend materials.
There’s no easy way to track what influence the promotions might have had on the number of shoppers or event visitors last summer, but Purcell had some anecdotal evidence.
“I was impressed by the number of people coming into the store and asking if I had heard of Wayne County Weekends,” she said with a smile.
Tammy Ullery, co-owner of Ullery’s Homemade Ice Cream in Richmond, said she doesn’t ask customers how they heard about the shop. She just does her best to welcome them and tell them about other places to visit in the county.
“I appreciate what the chamber’s done,” Ullery said. “They’ve brought an awareness to the county.”
Each community gets to decide what they want to do on their designated weekend, DeLaPaz said. Purcell said she has been particularly impressed with what Centerville has done.
Kyle Turner of Turner Insurance is board president for Main Street Centerville. Last summer, they created Centerville Community Fest on the town’s weekends, each including an antique show, farmers market, craft show, free concerts, and a beer garden. In August, these activities ran in conjunction with Archway Days, the town’s annual festival. Turner said he sees the monthly weekends as a way to build up to and enhance Archway Days, which are organized by a different non-profit organization.
Huffine described something similar for Hagerstown – working with the Nettle Creek Players summer stock theater and the annual Jubilee Days. The plan is to have “things for everybody to do,” said Huffine. “The idea is to try to get people to come into town.”
Both towns were pleased with the crowds they saw last summer – at least on the weekends when the weather cooperated. When the rain and scorching heat stayed away, the people came.
“Anytime you get an influx of people, it’s going to have an impact,” Huffine said. “You’ve got to find ways to pull people in.”
Turner loves watching folks enjoy the activities.
“It builds a sense of community,” he said. “It’s about quality of place. We want things for our community to do that are fun and safe and create that I-want-to-be-here vibe.”
Huffine thinks there’s a tendency for people to think local festivals are just for the people in those towns.
“I think we get a little closed off,” he said. Wayne County Weekends encourages county residents to jump in the car and visit other towns.
“We’re trying to weave communities together,” he said. “How can we quit competing against each other? If one of us does well, we’re all going to benefit.”
But movement within the county is only part of the picture.
The long-term goal, DeLaPaz said, is “to bring more people from outside of Wayne County.”
Wherever visitors come from however, they’re coming to small towns or Richmond neighborhoods (first weekend organizers there focus on a different district each month), spending time and money and getting better acquainted with everything Wayne County has to offer.