KENT—The state of the world may be parlous, the geopolitical universe spinning out of control, but Kent business leaders refuse to let divisiveness trickle down into their community.
The Chamber of Commerce has launched a campaign to knit together the frayed edges of communal cooperation and to bring the town together.
Ellen Corsell, vice president of the Kent Chamber of Commerce, explained the first week of the month that she had perceived that Kent, which has always boasted a vibrant and close-knit business community, was becoming fragmented, with an aura of distrust among its people.
Although retired from her own business, Heron Gallery, Corsell viewed the situation with dismay and decided to rejoin the Chamber membership.
“The world has become so divided,” she said. “There is so much animosity and distrust. We can’t do anything at the global level, but we can work in our own town. So, we developed the idea CommUNITY, of creating events in the town that will bring people together.”
The first flowerings of the effort bloomed almost immediately in the form of a convivial Quiz Night, which was followed by December’s wildly successful holiday celebration that engaged the entire business community.
Town Clerk Darlene Brady, who is a member of the Chamber subcommittee planning events, said that the movement to bring people together was “something I always believed we should do.”
Brady, a member of the Lions Club, said the Chamber’s effort parallels Lions Club goals. “When Ellen and I were were talking, and we said it out loud, it was just a natural thing to want to be part of because we are bringing people together. There is no bad that is going to come out of this.”
She explained that townspeople may see each other in a store or on the street to say hello, but that at the end of this fall’s Trivia Night, “you might have had a chance to get to know each other a little more.”
“We are trying to plan a variety of activities, so we reach out to all types, whether it a brain activity or something physical.
“The Parade of Lights is always wonderful,” Corsell said, “but this year it was bigger than ever. All of the businesses stayed open late and there were tons of people in the street.”
The spirit permeated the community with nonprofits and businesses alike cooperating to turn Main Street into a welcoming wonderland.
“Lara Hanson contacted me and said, ‘Let’s light up St. Andrew’s,’” recounted Corsell.
“In just a few days we raised $2,000 to make it happen,” she said. “Everyone said, ‘Just do it’ and we had donations that ranged from $25 to $500. There was this sense of people coming together to make this wonderful feeling on the street. It was just joyful.”
An influx of new businesses has added to the sense of vibrancy this year, including the opening of 45 on Main, a coffee and chocolate shop. Co-owner Gary Kidd bathes his business in color, changing the décor with each passing holiday.
“Look at this,” said Corsell, waving a hand at the colorful Christmas décor and indicating the vault in one side of the converted building, where Santa Claus took up residence on several occasions during the Christmas season.
Outside, the Grinch held court, his lurid green face luring visitors to the Christmas Wonderland inside.
But perhaps the most surprising—and charming—result of Kidd’s imagination were the flashing lights he installed in the spacious bathroom. He whipped out his phone and called up a video of children spontaneously disco dancing in the bathroom to piped-in music.
“I want to make coming here like kids coming into a candy store for my customers,” said Kidd, who will soon transform the decorations for Valentine’s Day.
“We’re flourishing when so many towns in Connecticut are not,” said Corsell.
Indeed, in December Kent was highlighted as the final town in a six-part series by Laura Benys in Connecticut Magazine. She extolled all the diverse, upscale businesses in town that draw weekend crowds from metropolitan regions.
That does not mean that the business community is resting on its laurels, however.
The Chamber is already planning its next event, a Robbie Burn’s Night at the Kent Community House on Jan. 27. Kidd, a Glaswegian, brings his familiarity with Scottish society to the event, and community members are pitching in to make the evening festive and diverse.
Kidd said the evening’s entertainment is still developing, but could include a bagpiper, instruction in Ceildh dancing, a tasting of Scottish liquors, a reading of Burns’ poems, and a Scottish dinner with—hang on, folks—haggis!
“The piper would pipe in the haggis,” Kidd said. “I’ve asked the House of Books [people] to read Burns’ original poems and Ira Smith of Kent Wine and Spirits will do the tasting.
Other townspeople are already indicating their willingness to participate in making the event a bright spot in a dark January night.
“The people are the bread and butter of the town,” said Corsell. “The sense of community is spreading.”