“The silver lining of this whole pandemic has been how the lodging sector has pulled together. They’ve really helped each other a lot, whether it is talking through protocols, cooperatively purchasing things like hand sanitizers and sharing cleaning tips. They really are a model for what we’re trying to do in the other sectors,” said Eric Friedman, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The lodging community has been meeting weekly since March, sharing intel but also providing moral support for each other. At the group’s last meeting on November 12, Washington County Senator Ann Cummings, chair of the Senate finance committee joined the Zoom call to hear from those in the lodging business about how devastating the pandemic has been for them and for everyone in the hospitality sector. They were lobbying Cumming in advance of a November 14 meeting of the joint fiscal committee to decide whether or not to heed Governor Phil Scott’s request that $75 million be made available in grants for that sector.

The joint fiscal committee did commit the $75 million for the hospitality industry and Friedman said he felt good that the local businesses and chamber were able to have a meaningful impact on the process.

“We were able to help them understand what this business sector is going through. And the vote was unanimous,” Friedman said.

Friedman is also happy about how retail businesses owners have been working together throughout the pandemic and most recently in working to organize for the holidays.

“With the new rules and a limited number of people allowed in retail stores, we want to spread the holiday season out as much as we can by having people buy local, buy online locally, buy gift certificates and spread it out over time,” he said.

This year, the chamber is modifying its annual Country Christmas celebration, exchanging a weekend of events with a plan to light up the community through a Festival of Lights.

“We want to light up the community and make the place look good, festive and like a beam of hope. We’re encouraging all neighborhoods to gussy themselves up. We want to have a nice package to promote all these things that are going on. We’re working to create and sell star kits that are being prepared by a Harwood Union learning pod with wood donated by the Ward Clapboard Mill and quartered by Pomerantz Woodworking,” he said.

‘The kids are making these star kits that are predrilled with the hardware and lights included. They’ll be available online and throughout the community soon. Funds raised from the sale will go to the foundations established by the families of the five students killed in the October 2016 crash,” he added.

June Anderson, who creates the Mad River Valley Guide, is slated to create a map of the Festival of the Lights displays so people can drive by to see them and then vote online for the best ones.

The chamber was recently awarded a $10,000 grant to support local businesses and a big chunk of that went directly to member restaurants and retail stores with the purchase of gift certificates. These will be used as prizes for the best displays and to encourage spectator participation. Stay tuned for information about the driving tour and online voting on the chamber’s social media channels. Those who create light displays are asked to register them for inclusion by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additionally, with the help of Waitsfield Telecom and Brad Cook, local contractor and energy efficiency expert, the old lights were removed from the Memory Tree in the TD Bank field. New lights are on order and will soon be installed. For a small donation, people can purchase lights in honor of a loved one. Funds raised from the sale of the lights will go to a local nonprofit.