Neighbors, Together Announces ‘Midd Money Match’ Program

By TAYLOR PHILLIPS

EXPERIENCE MIDDLEBURY
The Midd Money Match card. Shoppers can use this to collect stamps or signatures and get money back!

In the list of things that Vermonters are passionate about, shopping locally might make the top ten, just behind Bernie Sanders and maple syrup. A new program launched three weeks ago by the Neighbors, Together community action group aims to harness this sentiment and help out businesses in Middlebury through an incentives program called Midd Money Match.

Neighbors, Together seeks to alleviate strains on local business throughout the downtown rail bridge construction process and beyond through a variety of initiatives. Midd Money Match is a participatory program that issues money to people who shop in town and is expected to run through the winter holidays.

The vast majority of local stores are participating in the program, both out of loyalty to the Better Middlebury Partnership and in an effort to increase business. With the disruption created by the train project, many of the stores have noted a decline in business.

Any time shoppers spend more than ten dollars at a participating business, they will receive a stamp on their card. Shoppers can join the program by printing out their own card or picking one up from the National Bank of Middlebury, the Treasurer in the town office at 77 Main Street or one of the participating businesses. Once they have collected ten stamps, they can turn their card in to the Bank or the Treasury in exchange for ten dollars in Middlebury Money, which can then be used anywhere in town.

Despite the good intentions of its creators, businesses have yet to see an increase in customers as a result of the program in the initial three weeks. David Disque at Forth ‘n’ Goal noted that although the store tries to encourage all downtown activities, the Midd Money Match program “is not as big as it should be.” Hallett at Danforth Pewter echoed this sentiment, saying that the store “has a lot of customers who are locals who don’t know about it.”

Here on campus, that pattern continues. Although college students are usually the first to jump at an opportunity for free money, few of them were aware of the program and none of those interviewed had taken part so far.

A quick trip into town will reveal the plight of the local business in an age of one-click shopping and next-day delivery. The effects of which are easy to see: among others, Carol’s Café, Clay’s Clothing, Ben Franklin and – most recently – O’Brien’s Hair Salon have already shut down in the past year. Many business owners expressed concern about the effects of the downtown construction on potential customers. Pam Martin and Natasha Luizzi of Kiss the Cook explained that customers are struggling to find parking and thus are less likely to continue shopping downtown.

Representatives from businesses and organizations came together in St. Stephen’s Church last year and developed an action plan to help support the town and strengthen community partnerships. Their initiatives are meant to help Middlebury remain a vibrant and accessible downtown area. The chain link fence art on Main Street, an effort spearheaded by Town Hall Theater and carried out by local artists, provides a tangible representation of the group’s spirit: they are trying to take what could be a nuisance or an eyesore and turn it into something that brings the entire town together.

On top of the Midd Money Match program, the self-described grassroots group has launched a digital campaign on Instagram (@experiencemiddlebury) to highlight the town’s hidden gems in order to promote local shopping and, hopefully, increase tourism. They have also overhauled the Experience Middlebury website with a digital marketing grant from the USDA, shifting its focus to local businesses and providing a detailed calendar of events in town. Neighbors, Together is responsible for the signage that helps navigate construction and parking, a new brochure advertising Middlebury’s tourism draws and a series of events that took place over the summer, including free concerts and outdoor movies.

Local businesses hold the Neighbors, Together group and their collaboration with the Better Middlebury Partnership in high esteem.

“They do great work. I think they’re doing everything they can do,” said Nancie Dunn of Sweet Cecily’s. Several others underlined the plethora of events the group puts on, including this past Sunday’s Spooktacular Halloween celebration and the upcoming Midd Night Strolls during the holiday season.

Neighbors, Together also hopes to “brighten up” the construction zone with flowers and repainted walkways, initiate a tax-free holiday and install free Wifi downtown in the hopes of attracting more college students. Notably, the group’s website also declares an intention to assure free delivery of items purchased locally. This service could alleviate some of the pressures local businesses are feeling from online retailers.

Participation in Midd Money Match is aimed to help local businesses and the town as a whole to stay a vibrant community – incentive enough to shop downtown without considering the money you earn from investing locally.

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Neighbors, Together Announces ‘Midd Money Match’ Program