We caught up with New Hope Business Alliance (NHBA) steering committee member Greg Gauthier, who also is a leader of VC2015, one of several groups vying to take over administration of the shuttered New Hope Visitors Center, at his North Main Street Toy store. We asked him a few questions about the ball of confusion that characterizes the New Hope business leadership landscape today and his vision of the future. Some excerpts from the interview:
Greg, what do you think about the Greater Lambertville Chamber of Commerce adding “New Hope” to their name as part of an effort to attract New Hope membership?
I am still somewhat confused about the new name strategy, especially since I am told that the New Hope Chamber is still alive. Of course, in a perfect world it’s a great idea; we are joined at the hip by a bridge, so it makes so much sense. But it’s not a perfect world, and it’s not a black-and-white issue.
Frankly, it does not take a brain surgeon to figure out that it’s a cash grab, since so many big, established businesses are located in New Hope. I mean, how do you just change your name and make an announcement without explaining your strategy? There are 100-plus businesses that paid dues to the New Hope Chamber. If the New Hope Chamber and the Lambertville Chamber have merged, then all the power to them. That is not the case, though.
Listen, I don’t know Wilson Weed, I am sure he’s a great guy and I am sure they have an agenda, and I am sure 100 x $275 fits well in their financial budget. My personal opinion is that New Hope businesses, and in particular the merchants, require a New Hope voice. Again, if the Chambers have merged all the power to them. It would be wonderful to hear from the New Hope group, though.
Why even get involved in the politics of the New Hope business community? Don’t you have a toy store to run?
As you know, as a family, we have been a retailer in Bucks County for close to 40 years. My wife, Leslie, took over the family business 15 years ago, initially commuting from Canada, and during the last couple of years living here while I have been looking for business opportunities in the area, as well.
Moving our business, the Village Toy Shoppe, from Peddler’s Village to New Hope was huge for Leslie, and extremely emotional. We had looked at New Hope and almost signed a lease 10 years ago at the corner next to Savioni’s in the old jewelry shop, but did not pull the trigger. Last year, we found our spot on North Main Street between Diana Michael’s and Topeo, and frankly it has been a great move for us.
Leslie has created a fun shop, and she loves that local residents have become fans, along with our merchant neighbors, who up and down North Main Street have been fantastic. Lastly, it allowed us to do something we could not do at Peddler’s, and that’s become community-focused and involved. Leslie is becoming involved with certain groups locally, and I have become involved in various projects myself, which include the New Hope Business Alliance and VC 2015, which has expressed interest in the visitors center.
What about the visitors center and your group VC2015, which is vying for control of the moribund facility? Does the Playhouse have the inside track with the borough?
The visitors center is a must for New Hope, period. The visitors center should be focused on New Hope and the area. Who manages and, in turn, provides those services is what is being discussed right now. Presentations will be made at the February Borough Council meeting. I think both groups — the Playhouse and VC2015 — have great plans, which is why we are talking together. The VC2015 plan was reported in the Free Press last week, but both groups believe that this only works as an all-inclusive business plan which provides opportunity for all the local businesses.
I think we’ll figure out a way where we can all work together.
And I do not believe merchants should have to pay to be recommended as a local business at our visitors center, but I would like to introduce several new programs. Public facilities, brochures and parking quarters should, of course, be continued. I don’t see the Lambertville Chamber announcement changing either of our plans going forward.
Will the Lambertville Chamber be looking to manage the visitors center? Maybe. Can the NHBA manage the center? Possibly, but again, that should be a decision taken by the merchants as a whole.
Will that be discussed at the upcoming NHBA meeting open to all businesses this coming Monday (Jan. 26 at the Logan Inn)? Why hasn’t the business community heard more from the group? Did you pay off your holiday promo tab? Where do you think you’re headed?
As I’ve explained many times, the New Hope Business Alliance was initially formed to fill a void for the holiday period, to light the Christmas tree, and maintain some form of a holiday plan while the local chamber “took a break.” Through hard work by the committee members and many others, including several former New Hope Chamber board members, I think we did a pretty good job, since we had zero budget and two weeks to plan.
The weekly free parking program was well-received, and frankly the amount of volunteers we had made the weekly bagging very easy and people came into the shop to thank us and the group as a whole. It felt good.
Unfortunately, we had no budget, and at the end of the day, although we received funding from several generous local families and some businesses, we came up $1,500 short, and a few of us covered the final cost of the lights. But at the end of the day, we now own the lights going forward, and the cost to light that tree will be less than $1,000 next year.
Where will the Alliance go now? That’s up to the merchants. We have an open merchant meeting next Monday night, Jan. 26 at the Logan Inn to discuss possibilities. We have expanded the steering committee over the past weeks to include several more voices to help plan for the session.
The NHBA is extremely inclusive — we worked with The Playhouse as a team, we had an open door policy for all our meetings, and we worked with Terry Meehan on the First Friday event.
If there’s anything you could fault us (in particular me ) for, that would be that we did not meet with merchants to discuss the future of the Alliance sooner. But that’s because our group specifically focused on the holidays. We did not initially create the NHBA as the next “whatever” entity. In hindsight, maybe we should have had more conversation about what could be derived from the NHBA going forward. The topic was discussed in our planning meetings often. Again, I should be the one faulted for that misstep.
Menschy. So where is our little borough headed, and what’s your view of the road ahead?
Personally, I think the future of New Hope is bright, and as business owners, Leslie and I are very excited about the changing environment. Hey, don’t get me wrong, retail is a major challenge, whether you’re living in New Hope, New York, Toronto or Newport Beach. The economy, Internet, shopper sophistication and 100 other reasons affect us daily.
Having said that, “shop small” continues to gain traction, and locals love having their own shopping village, as long as the variety and quality meet the required standards. And people love this town. New Hope has some great merchants that are brand-recognized far and wide already located throughout Main, Mechanic and Ferry streets, and now you add the Playhouse’s strategic direction, which is very exciting, the new ownership plans for both the Logan and Hotel Du Village, the future with Odette’s, the success of the New Hope and Ivyland Railway, our great restaurants, our amazing B&B’s, some fabulous new shops, the history of the area. and our historic locations to visit…Wow that’s a lot of positives.
I had my family in from Canada, and they spent three days, and never had to go anywhere besides New Hope. They loved it, and it has something for all age groups. We should be focused on those positives.
But, of course, much work is still required. I think it’s great that discussions are being held to create more success –and we don’t have to all agree by the way — that’s cool. We desperately need to increase our year-round tourism, and we also need to create a reason for our locals to shop throughout the week. In essence, we need a marketing plan and we need to invest in it now.
I surely don’t have all the answers. I don’t agree with everything going on, but I am prepared to listen.
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This person really shouldn’t speak about others agendas as clearly he has one. How that other guy weed can be thrown under the bus for by this guys max estimation 27k.
Has not spoken to and doesnt know but speaks negatively and wants a for profit at the visitors center.
Triple talk and totally untrustworthy.
Get the 10 people together and figure out how best to execute the inter related agendas of these 2 small towns. Its not rocket science in fact its very simple.
Business participation is very low so this 27k is more like 8 or 10k. Pooling resources and coordinating events is the future not this self center stuff