Timothy Reilly, for the Times
Bristol Borough is preparing for a visit that may change the town’s fortunes, but it needs some outside help.
On Jan. 10 and 11, representatives from the Small Business Revolution will travel to Bristol for the next step in a process that could land the town a $500,000 in grants for borough-wide revitalization. The team will film interactions with locals, tourists and business owners along the Mill Street corridor.
Bristol officials are encouraging people to visit the borough on these days in order to bolster the town’s bid for the prize.
“I think it’s important to show we have not only town support, but countywide support,” said Jimmy Bason.
Bason is the president of the Bristol Borough Business Association and owner of Bird of Paradise Flowers on Mill Street.
The Small Business Revolution is an annual initiative sponsored by Deluxe, a Minnesota-based company that provides a variety of services to small businesses and financial institutions. The aim of the project is to help local businesses and their communities weather the storm of deindustrialization.
The town that wins the $500,000 renewal effort will be featured on the Small Business Revolution’s Main Street Series, which streams on Hulu. A film crew will document the year-long attempt to transform the area over an eight-part series.
From a pool of 14,000 entrants, Bristol has made the “Season 2 Short List” of eight towns that remain in contention for the prize. Bristol’s bid was buoyed by the enthusiastic response to the competition from its citizens. According to Bill Pezza, 70 individual applications were sent on Bristol’s behalf.
In late January, the site visits will conclude and a final five will be selected. Finally, an online vote will be held the week of Feb. 9-16 to determine a winner
Pezza serves as chairman of Bristol’s Raising the Bar organization. He has spearheaded the town’s campaign and served as its representative during the process.
When asked why he has invested his time in the contest, Pezza stated: “To me, doing something purposeful, especially in service to one’s town, is very satisfying. But it would be impossible to sustain the effort without a sincere love for the town and strong belief that we are on the verge of realizing our full potential.”
Business owners along Mill Street share Pezza’s enthusiasm. Joe Starling, co-owner of Sharkey’s Barbershop, was eager to discuss his vision for a future Bristol that pays homage to its past.
Starling’s shop takes visitors back to the 1930s, offering haircuts and history. His adherence to a traditional approach has paid dividends for his business. He thinks Mill Street can attract tourists who wish to “take a trip back in time.”
Starling believes the spotlight provided by the Small Business Revolution visit will spur ambitious entrepreneurs to invest in the borough.
Rich Vallejo, who operates Another Time Antiques, has a similar view. He hopes the competition will bring more retail stores to Mill Street.
“This town has to be merchandized,” he stated. “We need quaint, person-to-person shops [where] you’re dealing with the owner 90 percent of the time.”
Gladys Harper of GBH International Ltd. echoed her neighbor’s sentiments.
“If you have a destination that people will travel to, they will come for personalized business,” she said.
Irma, a client of Harper’s, best captured Bristol’s appeal to potential residents and tourists.
“This town has a small-town feel, and that’s what we want to keep,” she said.
For those wishing to help Bristol earn that $500,000 grant, coming out to shop, eat or visit some businesses along the Mill Street corridor would be a start. Those two days, Jan. 10 and 11, could determine whether Bristol advances toward that much-needed prize money. ••