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Mares: Revitalized Community

Thirty years ago I was a State Representative when I met with a small group of Burlingtonians intent on the revitalization of Pine Street, a long panhandle of businesses and studios in the city's South End.

Business people like Phil George, Doug Nedde, Tom O'Brien, and Steve Conant joined artists Dave Griffin and Peter Perez, as well as Bruce Seifer of the city's Community and Economic Development Office, or CEDO.

The fledgling group called itself the Greater Pine Street Business Association. And from the start it supported both businesses and artists - recognizing that artists were, after all, working to start and maintain their own businesses, and that creativity was a hallmark of artists and entrepreneurs alike.

We adopted a seminal idea from a CEDO report on economic development called "Jobs and People" that focused on building a diversity of smaller businesses, instead of the more widely used strategy of trying to snare a few large employers offering hundreds of jobs.

What's more, we wanted to build on a business incubator already established on Pine Street, in which businesses started small and moved on when they outgrew their space. It was a lively hodgepodges where sign painters mixed with home repair, jewelers with coffee roasters, and lamp makers with specialty printers. Some businesses achieved dramatic growth, like Burton Snowboards, Dealer dot com, Lake Champlain Chocolates and Citizen Cider.

Eventually our group evolved into the South End Arts and Business Association, in a permanent fusion of art and industry, business and culture. And three years ago, I invested in a Pine Street business with brewer Todd Haire. The House of Fermentology is a small beer blendary with three other breweries within a quarter of a mile. Local artist Clark Derbes designed our logo and decorated our space. And for another Pine Street connection, one of my sons now works on at Lake Champlain Chocolates.

This weekend more than six hundred participating artists are expected to welcome at least thirty thousand visitors from across the northeast and Canada for three days of exhibits, sculpture, fashion shows, music, live demos, artist markets, juried show, Kids Hop and more!

My personal favorite will be an exhibit at Main Street Landing called "Crunch and Funk" exploring how business and art came together in Burlington to generate a richly diverse and creative economy.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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