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Salem wants slice of tourism market

By Kelly Catalfamo

Publication: The Day

Published April 01. 2013 4:00AM

Salem - While this town of just over 4,000 people is so rural that it doesn't even have a grocery store, the Economic Development Commission is considering strategies to attract tourists and new businesses.

For $290 a year, the Chamber of Commerce would help market Salem to visitors. EDC Chairman Frank Sroka and its Board of Selectmen liaison Bob Ross recently met with Tony Sheridan, the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, to discuss that possibility.

The organization would use popular Salem businesses, such as Salem Valley Farms Ice Cream Co. or Salem Prime Cuts meat shop, to create a brand for the town.

The Salem representatives also left the meeting with suggestions that they could implement on their own, such as creating an electronic billboard to advertise town events and organizing focus groups to get resident feedback.

When Sroka and Ross explained the town's interest in attracting a grocery store, Sheridan advised them to call a major supermarket chain and ask if they would be interested in opening a Salem branch. But Sroka also has his sights set on companies more exciting than a Stop & Shop or Big Y.

In February he asked the EDC members to compile a list of businesses they would like to see in Salem, and his ideas included a miniature golf facility, batting cages and a recreational center with a go-kart track. Such companies might attract visitors to the town while preserving its character, according to Sroka.

Sheridan pointed the town in the direction of Mystic.org, a trip-planning website for visitors to Mystic run by the marketing company Quinn & Harry, as another way to appeal to visitors.

At its March 18 meeting, the Economic Development Commission discussed the idea of using that site to market Salem, hoping to lure tourists away from Mystic after they've exhausted the major attractions there. Businesses such as Burnett's Country Gardens, Prime Cuts and Salem Valley Farms, as well as the town's summer farmers markets, already have a regional draw and might be attractive to tourists, the EDC decided.

The town could partner with those businesses to advertise on Mystic.org. That would cost about $50 a year-not a "make or break investment," said Sroka.

The Economic Development Commission is also working on a brochure to help attract businesses and residents. This will be different from the town's previous brochures, which were only used to attract businesses.

The new brochure is being designed by Nicole Gadbois, one of the younger faces on the Economic Development Commission. The Board of Selectmen has been attempting to "revitalize" the EDC by bringing in younger people with "a new vision of the future," according to Ross.

The older brochure features photos of isolated, empty buildings that look "scary," said Gadbois, who is searching for new photographs of iconic places such as the Town Hall and the Congregation Church of Salem.

"We don't want Salem to look like a ghost town," she said. "We want it to look vibrant and inviting."

Another initiative the EDC is considering is a packet that they could provide to prospective businesses, a project that would be done in conjunction with the brochure and Quinn & Harry Marketing. The packet would focus on what makes Salem unique from a business perspective.

The commission is also planning to build a database of information gathered from questionnaires sent to all businesses in town. Statistics from those surveys, such as the number of different types of businesses in the town, could be used to help market Salem to new companies.

By asking questions about what the businesses like and dislike about working in Salem, the questionnaire could also be "a way to organize what we're doing and improve communication," said Sroka.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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