by Annette Hinkle
Kelly Connaughton, the recently elected president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce (and founder of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival) talks about her new role with the chamber and offers a preview of what to expect at this year’s HarborFrost.
What inspired you to get involved with the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce?
In founding the music festival, one of the main goals was to help promote Sag Harbor as a cultural destination and bring people here in the shoulder season. In doing that I got really involved in the chamber for their general support. I canvased the community to make sure this was something people were interested in doing. After the first festival [then chamber president] Robert Evjen came and asked if I would consider being on the board.
What was the first task you tackled as a board member?
Last year I chaired the membership committee which focuses on developing new opportunities for members. We had a bag lunch series, and helped out with the windmill concerts to raise awareness of restoration of the windmill. I also participated on the communication committee. The focus was getting the website more current and user friendly. I think its come a long way, but we’re always looking for more member input as to what direction it should go. We have an on-line directory and it’s mobile ready, anyone coming to Sag Harbor can pull up the website on their mobile phone.
From where you sit as chamber president, how do you see the organization changing?
We have a rich history. It’s evolved quite a bit since it was founded by Nada Barry, Jack Tagliasacchi and David Lee. It’s a membership organization, so we have to have balance and bring the members along with us. That includes working to help integrate this new social media. The bag lunches were about promotions using free marketing on the Internet — whether Google ads or social media. We had a series of speakers who spoke on these free services and we’re trying to see if this is relevant to what people need to know.
With everyone focused on their own businesses, it must be hard to find common ground.
We have brick and mortar businesses, non-profits, service industries — everyone has their perspective and when we talk about an issue at a board meeting, we get to hash it out amongst ourselves. The we reach out to get feedback and bring it back to the board.
My professional background is in non-profit management. Board members are all volunteers and all have something important to contribute. Coming up with the priorities and goals of an organization is the real work. Once you are unified behind those goals, you can move forward.
Speaking of moving forward, HarborFrost is coming up February 8 to 10. What can we expect this year?
This is our third year – I wasn’t involved when the chamber started it and I remember thinking, ‘People are really going to dive in the water?’ All the essential parts are back, including the plunge, the fireworks, the ice sculpting and the fire dancers. We added in music last year and we’ll have that from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at various locations. The Coast Guard will have events like cold water demos and it looks like we’ll have an ice breaker regatta.
New this year is an art walk. Any gallery that wants to participate can and Maryann Lucas, an artist and a coordinator on our committee, will lead it. It’s from 3 to 5 on Saturday and kicks off at the Grenning Gallery. The owner of the galleries will talk about work and offer something, whether it’s food or music.
This year events are spread out from Friday to Sunday and include the kick off Frost Ball – which will be really great and is from 6 to 10 on Friday at Muse, with music, open bar and hors d’oeuvres. It’s $75 and supports the cost of the event and whatever else we make supports the chamber. On Sunday there’s a pancake breakfast for the volunteer ambulance corps and at 10, a hike led by Dai Dayton in the Greenbelt.
Events are so much fun when the community gets involved. This is another way to celebrate Sag Harbor, go out and have fun no matter the weather.
And if it snows, there will be an impromptu snow man contest.
What do you think makes Sag Harbor’s business community unique?
We’ve got an interesting mix of people who have been here 40 years or more — and have owned businesses on Main Street. But it’s not just Main Street. There’s also a rich service industry, businesses focused on health, wellness and fitness. And Bay Street is being developed. There are great businesses going in there and on Route 114. They have great personality — not like the brand name stores. It’s Sag Harbor.
The business community is a reflection of the people.