By Sue Moore
Events help to bring people to this corner of Kalamazoo County, many people believe. When the Vicksburg Area Chamber of Commerce was reconstituted in 2008, the officers, headed up by Dr. Dustin Morton, decided to specialize in events.
Thus, the Chili Cook-off was created, mostly led by Jill Lindley, who owned a downtown flower shop. The village already had a big event, the Old Car Festival, begun in 1980 by the Vicksburg Community Association which was a precursor to the Chamber. The Old Car portion is still going strong, due to Skip and Carol Knowles who have never let up on the throttle. They have kept it going although the community association has become extinct.
A block party was suggested by Steve McCowen, who was one of the early presidents of the Chamber, along with the Taste of Vicksburg, which were both organized in the summer of 2013. The Taste survived as one of the regular Chamber of Commerce events, as has the chili cook-off. All the while, the leadership of the Chamber was ebbing and flowing. It was dependent upon volunteers to get the job done. One was Tanya Delong, who was active until she closed her knitting shop on S. Main Street.
Businesses too have come and gone with downtown experiencing empty store-fronts, while manufacturing has increased with expansion in the Leja Industrial Park. The conundrum was how to meld these two together and provide a benefit for all concerned. Enter Mandy Miller, hair stylist who owned her shop on S. Main Street, along with Nick DeVito, the barber next door. They have taken over the Chamber as president and vice-president, respectively, along with Dane Bozel as treasurer and owner of two separate businesses downtown. Brian Pitts and Kim Critz are trustees. Christine Butcher is secretary.
Together they have spearheaded chamber activities including quarterly mixers that have provided new and old businesses a chance to pitch their wares. Miller tried a job fair last spring that was minimally attended. But it was considered an important step in the right direction to help manufacturing members stay connected to the organization.
Miller is a whirling dervish of event planning. She would do a lot more if she didn’t have a full-time job, husband and family interests. She also served on the Downtown Development Authority at one time and says it’s important not to confuse the two. The Chamber exists to promote the village. The DDA exists to work with bricks and mortar that helps to spruce up the downtown buildings. That agency will be leading planning for the streetscape project, set to move ahead in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Chili Cook-off and 5K race preceding it grew to the point where it was moved to the community pavilion on Richardson Street. It will better accommodate the large crowd of attendees and chili vendors, Miller pointed out. It is scheduled on Saturday, March 9 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.