From the wreckage of Hurricane Irene, a new effort called Explore Bristol has sprung to life.
The initiative — a collaboration among business, government, education, and nonprofit groups — recently launched its own website to establish an online presence.
Michael Byrnes of Weetamoe Farm, one of the organizers of the effort, explained the idea behind the new push to promote the community during an interview at Angelina's coffee shop on Hope Street.
"We said 'What we really need to do is really identify all the positive aspects of Bristol, we need to figure ways to make them better, and we need to figure out ways to link them more closely,'" Byrnes said. "The bottom line was to enhance economic vitality — because if you have a town with closed storefronts, where the attitude is down and not up, it doesn't do anyone any good."
From that discussion grew an overall mission statement, which Byrnes summed up as "making Bristol a better place to visit, shop, run a business, live and work."
[A brief prepared by Explore Bristol is attached to this article in .pdf format.]
Then, the group got to work gathering all of the potential contributors — from Roger Williams University to town officials to business groups like the Rotary and the East Bay Chamber of Commerce, Byrnes recalled.
"We saw this as a community-wide effort — it wasn't just the businesses doing this," he explained. "[Having the other organizations on board] not only allows us to present a united front, but also to put our best foot forward — we look at the other organizations as partners [since] we all have the same goals."
And beyond just talking about what could be done, the new group set out to make things happen by setting up seven "working groups" focused on the different aspects of Bristol, which include wedding/hospitality; waterfront marine; retail/services; history/heritage; art and culture; leisure/education; and manufacturing.
"What's behind all of this is that an economically vibrant Bristol benefits not only the business community, but all of the community," Byrnes explained.
The members of Explore Bristol also recognized the need to promote Bristol on a wider level, and brought in some high-power talent to to it — Jeff Hirsh, owner of The Lobster Pot, was able to get New York City PR firm Lou Hammond and Associates involved.
"She's the best at destination marketing," Hirsh explained, noting that Hammond's clients include Providence, Charleston, SC, Bermuda, the State of Hawaii, American Express, and the Four Seasons Hotel chain. "I mentioned this to her over a year ago, and she said 'We'll take it on.' She's taken it on as a project because she likes what she sees — she knows this is a grassroots kind of thing, and she wants to see it succeed."
Hirsh said he signed onto Explore Bristol because he thinks it will provide the attention needed to bring an economic boost to the town.
"I hear this all the time in my business: so many people are coming through, and they're very impressed with what they see, but we've kind of been, in many ways, asleep — this is where the improvement comes into play," Hirsh explained.
To find out more — and to get your Bristol business listed with Explore Bristol — visit their website, www.explorebristolri.com