DOG DAYS: Peggy Hicks, seated right, owner of the Bradford Street gift shop the Knotty Dog in Bristol, says the shop has increased sales 30 percent year over year for the last two years.
PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL PERRSON
SHOWING PRIDE: The Bristol Train of Artillery commanded by Lt. Col. Raymond Murray performs during the 2011 Fourth of July Parade. The Bristol Merchants Association and residents have launched a marketing campaign to pitch the town’s assets.
Tropical Storm Irene left this small, coastal town feeling powerless two years ago in more ways than one. But a successful marketing campaign, Explore Bristol Rhode Island, has dramatically changed the outlook of some local officials and businesses for the better.
About 30 downtown merchants in the town of nearly 23,000 lost power for the better part of a week, primarily on Hope, Bradford and State streets, following that late August storm, according to town leaders and Peggy Hicks, owner of the Bradford Street gift shop the Knotty Dog. Complaints grew as restoration lagged, they said.
“It was a dark storm and a dark time in Bristol,” Hicks recalled recently. “There were a lot of businesses closing at that time. We had lost five or six stores. People had said business had been good 10 years prior, but with the recession and for whatever reason, people weren’t coming downtown to shop and eat.”
Instead of giving in to the negative turn of events, however, residents and business owners began meeting and getting past the gripe sessions to a new level of awareness: that if anything was to change, it would take deliberate, constructive effort from within.
“The end result of all of this was lots of discussion, primarily by the merchants and the Town Council,” said Jeffrey Hirsh, owner of the Lobster Pot Restaurant on Hope Street.
Collaborating with the town and residents old and new, a local group launched a marketing campaign and website to pitch the seaside town’s assets – its harbor, museums, shops and bed-and-breakfast and lodging establishments – not with the intent of becoming a major tourist attraction, but to encourage sustained visits from within and elsewhere.
Located on Narragansett Bay and the Kickemuit River, the town is home to the Herreshoff Marine Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame, Colt State Park and the Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum. Charter fishing, kayaking, art and photography exhibits and weddings are among the more popular activities, according to www.explorebristolri.com.