gives life to new arts scene
tourism chief, others behind push
to create Switzerland County culture boom
(November 2006) Switzerland County, Ind.,
situated along the Ohio River Scenic Byway, has a long and rich history
in cultivating grapes and producing wine. The county boasts of being
the site of the first commercial winery in the United States.
There is much to do in Switzerland County, including a visit to the
luxurious Belterra Casino Resort, located seven miles east of the county
by Konnie McCollum
Mercantile is one of several
new retail shops to open in
downtown Vevay in recent months.
With a population of about 1,400 people, Vevay is a town
rich in historic and cultural preservation. It has more than 300 buildings
that date back to the 19th century, and the entire town is listed on
the Indiana State Historic Register. There are several museums and tourist
attractions, including the Life on the Ohio River History Museum, the
Switzerland County Historical Museum, the Ridge Winery, and the newly
remodeled Best Western Ogle Haus.
In recent months, Vevay has seen an explosive growth in an area of its
culture that has always been quietly on the sidelines its
arts scene. Local residents and tourists have flocked to the small town
to take part in the exciting renaissance in the towns art culture.
David Attaway, executive director of Switzerland County Welcome Center,
said it is not any one thing that has created the surge in the arts
scene. It is a percolation effect that has not all been planned.
He said the community became excited and extremely supportive about
a new First Friday initiative, which members of the community
instituted. Simultaneously, tourism leaders came out with a new plan
called A Vision for Switzerland County to help artisans
and local retailers better market their wares and capitalize on the
500,000 visitors who come to the county each year. The combination has
created a contagious desire in the entire community to support the local
artists and shop owners. It has also created a surge in new shops and
art galleries throughout downtown Vevay.
The First Friday program was started by Meredith Luhrs of
Community Studio Gallery. It is a program in which on the first Friday
evening of the month visitors, residents, gallery owners and the community
gather to socialize, visit the various galleries and shops in downtown
Vevay, listen to live music and dine at the local restaurants.
I wanted something that would get people together to socialize,
so I used the format of the Gallery Hop that I had seen while in Philadelphia,
Luhrs said. She believes that social interaction is important to the
development of the downtown art and business culture. A similar concept
is used in many cities and towns across the country and the region.
by Konnie McCollum
area artisans showcase and sell
their works at the new retail store,
Signatures of Switzerland County.
Luhrs said the initial First Friday was held
last February, and it seemed like an instant success. It worked
because people were looking for something to do, she said.
Eventually, Vevays Main Street Program stepped in and helped with
sponsorships to add live music and more galleries into the hop.
The move also tied the event with local retail stores. The results have
created an economic stimulus for the town, they say.
At the First Friday on Oct. 6, six galleries, seven retail
shops and numerous food and beverage establishments were included in
the program, and live music entertained the crowds at several locations.
Tony and Peggy Cantanzaro, owners of Tonys Art Studio, 205 Liberty
St., said the First Friday program has helped their business
tremendously. Everyone ends up here after the program ends, which
is just doing great things for us, Tony said.
Peggy said the community has rallied around the First Fridays,
and tourism and business appear to be increasing throughout the entire
Kim Jackson, owner of the Coffee Works Café, 117 W. Main St.,
said the First Friday events are increasing her sales tremendously.
Each week we seem to do better and better.
Her café is one of the sites for the live music during each of
the Friday night events. Each month, she also displays a different exhibit
for the Community Studio Gallery.
Martha Bladen, one of several owners of unique retail shop called The
Bizarre Ladies, said the First Friday events have brought
in not only tourists but also local people who hadnt ever been
to many of the downtown shops. For our shop, particularly, the
live music offered by the events has helped improve awareness of the
shop because the musicians are located in the field adjacent to the
store, she said.
Bladen added that the continuation of the events should certainly help
many of the downtown retailers during the offseason.
The next First Friday will be held from 6
p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 3. Weather conditions may change some of the
entertainment plans, but the galleries, shops and restaurants along
the way will be open and ready for fun, planners say. Jackson said the
acoustic duo of SameSoul from Madison will be performing at her café
during the event.
Attaway said, A real entertainment surprise and treat is in the
works for the upcoming First Friday. He would not
say what that surprise would be.
Concurrently, while the community was pulling together and momentum
was increasing because of the First Friday events, tourism
officials were developing a plan to help stimulate all facets of economic
development in the county.
Attaway said the tourism board held a retreat last year in which the
goals and objectives for the county were discussed. One of the exercises
at the retreat was to come up with ideas as if money was no object.
I told everyone to shoot for the moon, Attaway said. He
said the retreat provided a new energy and a grander scale of thinking
than was previously considered.
Several challenges for the community were identified and several goals
were set. One of the challenges discussed was how to move the tourists
visiting Belterra Casino Resort & Spa through the rest of the county.
Officials also recognized the need to help current struggling businesses,
launch new endeavors and increase marketing for existing businesses.
We wanted to fill voids and build on what already
existed in the community, not necessarily recruit outside of the community,
Attaway said. He said it was important to tourism leaders that the small
town charm and unique characteristics of Vevay and Switzerland County
be retained. We dont want to be any other community.
A two-year cooperative project called A Vision for Switzerland
County evolved from the discussions. The project, managed by tourism,
is funded by the Switzerland County Council, the Town of Vevay, Switzerland
County Tourism, Switzerland County Economic Development, the Vevay-Switzerland
County Foundation and the Community Foundation of Switzerland County.
The project encompasses county-wide welcoming signage, county business
workshops in marketing, incentives, building renovations and the Vevay
Main Street Facade and Signage.
Part of the plans call for creating five retail businesses
over the next two years. Two of those businesses, The Mercantile, 314
Ferry St., and Signatures of Switzerland County, 120 W. Main St., have
opened. A third retail store is scheduled to open in December.
Angie Satterfield, project manager for Visions of Switzerland County,
said the project opened its first store, The Mercantile, in October.
The retail store allows community artisans and craftsman to sell their
wares for a small commission fee. County residents pay a 20 percent
commission on sales, while out-of-county residents pay 30 percent on
The Mercantile is a retail shop in which artists can bring in their
products and sell them. The talent has always been here, but many
artists and craftsman simply didnt have the financial means or
the appropriate outlet to show their goods. The Mercantile now fills
that void, Satterfield said.
Although still in its infancy, the store has received much positive
feedback. Satterfield said, Out of the 64 initial participating
artisans, two-thirds have already received checks, and sales are growing
daily. She said tourists as far away as France have visited the
store, which is the only place in the country to get some of the exclusive
Switzerland County goods.
Signatures of Switzerland County is the second of the
retail stores to open. It held its soft opening on Oct. 6. The store
is strictly for artisans and craftsman to show finer quality work. Both
stores are part of the First Friday gallery hop in the town.
Attaway said the combination of the Visions project and the community
First Friday efforts have created a long-term vision for
the community. He said officials and residents are encouraged but realistic.
They are looking for sustainable economic growth and development.
Instead of constraints, there are now positive possibilities,
and people are starting to see a tangible delivery system of who we
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