Kate Liberman of HVSF will lead effort to expand
Michael Turton spoke with Kate Liberman, the newly appointed board president of the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce, about the organization’s priorities for the upcoming year. Liberman is managing director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Her responses have been edited for brevity.
Have you been involved with other chambers?
Before moving here two years ago I was with the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, California, a small town with many similarities to Cold Spring, including visitors getting away from the city and parking issues. Prior to that I was with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and attended meetings of the Downtown Business Association there.
What makes the Cold Spring business community unique?
We have diverse businesses both on Main Street and outside the village, and they have unique customers: tourists versus residents looking for an electrician or insurance agent. The number of strong nonprofits such as Glynwood, Boscobel and Manitoga is also distinctive for a small community.
What did you glean from the chamber’s brainstorming event at Glynwood in November?
I heard that we have to bring the different types of businesses together, from Main Street shops and contractors to plumbers and IT specialists. There were also a lot of great ideas presented, including from new businesses. We have to take advantage of that.
Has the new board discussed priorities for 2017 ?
Next week is our second meeting. We have set the events calendar and will have monthly membership meetings with breakfast sessions devoted to business education and evening mixers for networking and finding ways to collaborate. We’re also planning a newsletter that will include business news from national organizations and local chambers.
Do you have a pet project you’d like to see initiated?
Not a pet project, but we have to be responsive to our membership. Our big goal is to bring the diverse businesses in this community together. Most of the new board members are not from Main Street and some joined to help us think about that goal. We’re eager to hear from members on that issue.
Chamber-sponsored events such as the town-wide tag sale, summer music series and Halloween parade are popular with residents, but do they help business?
Others have brought that up. We want those events to continue, if it is financially viable. They bring business to Main Street but not to our full membership.
The Chamber website has been greatly improved but is very tourism-oriented. Is that at the expense of non-tourism businesses?
We want to tweak it, giving all businesses equal opportunity to be featured on the site. And we want residents to find it useful when they need to find a local business.
Many feel it is unnecessary for this small community to have two business groups — the Chamber and the Cold Spring Merchants’ Association. Will the new board address that issue?
[Immediate past president] Alison Anthoine and the previous board spent a lot of time working closely with the Merchants’ Association. We want to continue to build on that relationship.
The Chamber has 85 members, which seems like too few for an all-volunteer organization. Is thought being given to partnering or merging with the Beacon Chamber?
That is something Alison mentioned toward the end of her term. We’d love to discuss how we can collaborate with Beacon; there may be economies of scale in partnering for specific events.
There is a dearth of local tourism data to support marketing efforts. Should the Chamber gather visitor information such as hometown, mode of transportation, length of stay, spending, etc.?
We do that at HVSF. It would be good to reach out to other organizations to see what they do.
What could Putnam County Tourism do to aid the Chamber?
We can’t ask much of them until they hire an executive director. We have a good liaison with Barney Molloy on our board. [Molloy is also president of the Putnam Tourism board.]
I was quite dismayed when I read this article for a number of reasons, not the least of which is what I perceive as Ms. Liberman’s attitude toward Cold Spring’s most important industry, which is tourism, and the economic benefits that it brings to Main Street and the county taxpayers. Not only that, but Ms. Liberman’s responses to the questions indicate to me that she is woefully uninformed about the true state of affairs on Main Street.
Let’s start with the fact that her background seems to be in the theater industry and not in retail or small business. By her own admission, her knowledge seems to be anecdotal rather than hands-on. It would be very difficult if not impossible for her to have a true understanding about what it’s like to have your life savings invested in a local business that depends on tourism to even have a chance at success.
Priorities, according to Liberman, it’s all about “business education.” Trust me, the merchants and business owners of Main Street could teach that course after our experiences in this town. Why not ask us what we think the priorities of the Chamber should be? I would say that the answer is simple: bring more people into town, more customers who understand what we have here, and who will spend their money.
Sad to say that for all intents and purposes, the Cold Spring Merchants’ Association is defunct and does not really do much of anything anymore. The truth is that there is no dedicated organization anymore that represents the merchants. That is why some of us have had hope that the Cold Spring Chamber would do so, but such has not been the case. It’s really every man (and woman) for himself or herself.
Ms. Liberman also does not seem to realize how important events are to our business community. If anything, more events are needed like the ones we see in neighboring Beacon where Second Saturdays draw thousands of visitors. If there is one thing the Chamber should do that would really be useful and that could actually make money for them and everyone else, would be to bring in a producer to do a big event like the Kraft Beer Fest.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why the Cold Spring Chamber doesn’t merge with the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber which is the premier chamber in our region. Many of the other towns have long ago ditched their own chambers to join up with the Gateway which has superior benefits and programs. This was was an idea that was floated several years ago but of course, it went nowhere.
In keeping with my suggestion above about the need to bring in more customers, getting our entitlements from the County Legislature should be the No. 1 priority of the Chamber or any other group that wants to represent our merchants and business owners. Every single year our hard working business owners generate many, many thousands of dollars in sales tax and other revenue. And every single year we get screwed out of the services that we so desperately need and rightfully deserve. At the present time, the county Visitors Bureau, which is allegedly being run by Chairman Barney Molloy and phantom “director” Frank Smith, is in a state of lockdown with no money forthcoming to promote the Village.
Ms. Liberman states that nothing can be done until they hire a new director. But up until Mr. Molloy took over, the Visitors’ Bureau had been functioning for quite awhile without a director after Libby Pataki took off to follow her husband’s presidential run, leaving her deputy, Frank Smith, in charge. It was not until Molloy somehow got appointed as Chairman of the new board of directors for the bureau that things took a complete nosedive and Cold Spring lost its funding for desperately needed advertising and marketing.
There has been speculation in the Village as to why this happened, but none of it bears repeating. Suffice to say that the lack of financial support from the County had a profound effect on our holiday sales. Thus, I have to say that I find it incredible that Ms. Liberman boasts about their relationship with Mr. Molloy, under the circumstances I have outlined above.
Please note that I have devoted countless hours as a volunteer trying to get whatever money I could from the County and elsewhere for our struggling Main Street businesses. I have produced marketing materials, done distribution, met with State and County officials, you name it. I would be more than happy to share my knowledge with Ms. Liberman or anyone else who is interested in improving business in Cold Spring.