Destination Carlisle is not on “equal footing” with the Downtown Carlisle Association, according to co-founder Stephanie Patterson Gilbert.
For one, Downtown Carlisle Association has a paid staff, an office, a board and sources of funding, while Destination Carlisle is a merchant-run, small business-focused organization comprised of volunteers.
However Destination Carlisle’s catchphrase, “Let our downtown be your downtown,” outlines a focus on supporting the businesses of downtown Carlisle.
From countywide organizations like Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities to the Cumberland County Visitors Bureau to downtown-oriented Downtown Carlisle Association and Destination Carlisle, a variety of entities promote a similar goal, albeit in different ways.
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Housing and Redevelopment Authorities of Cumberland County
In her role as the community and business development manager and communications manager with the housing authorities, Rebecca Yearick focuses on making retail, restaurants and downtown or community assets more attractive across Cumberland County.
“A more attractive downtown is more attractive to businesses, visitors, shoppers, tourists, residents,” she said. “You know, we all would prefer to live and work in a place that’s beautiful and maintained and clean and safe and very welcoming.”
Through the authorities, Yearick assists business owners in finding, purchasing and outfitting properties to operate. This can be done through the use of Community Block Development Grants or by working with lenders like banks or credit unions who might offer discounted rates to work with the authorities.
“Rebecca is why we’re sitting here today,” Jim Griffith, co-owner of Create-A-Palooza on East High Street in Carlisle, said of the business’ location.
He said Yearick began to meet with him and his wife, Karen who also co-owns the business, when they began in 2014 in their first location at the edge of Carlisle, and played a significant role in moving the shop to its current location just a block off the Square.
One factor that delayed the move was the installation of pottery kilns, something that shouldn’t be located below apartments and required specific circuits, Jim Griffith said. When they found a place that would house the kilns needed to fire glazed pottery it was “in shambles,” he said.
“We came in and all the drop ceiling was ripped down, there was hanging HVAC, and it was just a disaster in here,” Jim Griffith said, adding that Yearick helped facilitate the restoration of the property that has housed Create-A-Palooza since 2019.
Destination Carlisle is known for events like Halloweekend and the Carlisle Bunny Hop. It has also created a virtual guide to the downtown and installed two markers, one for Hot-Chee dogs, a Carlisle staple, and one for the Old Town Pump, which was located in the Square.
“Our philosophy on our own initiatives is we try to create opportunities/events and then offer them to downtown businesses and organizations who might want to participate, and if they feel they may benefit from them, they can join in,” Gilbert said. “If not, we understand because as business owners ourselves, we know not every opportunity will align with your business or organization’s needs.”
“They’re not really an entity you go to and say “Hey, can we do this and partner with this, ‘they’re more one ‘we are doing this and this; do you want to join us when we do that,'” Karen Griffith said.
Gilbert said that from its beginning in 2016, Destination Carlisle has seen itself as an organization designed to run parallel to the Downtown Carlisle Association, and it works with a similar goal of promoting the downtown with separate initiatives.
“For example, while DCA is working on Harvest of the Arts in September, we’re working on Halloweekend in October,” she said. “This way, we can provide more opportunities for downtown to be showcased throughout the year instead of duplicating efforts, if that makes sense.”
Gilbert said the COVID-19 pandemic turned the organization’s world upside down.
As it’s run by local business owners, she said their attention turned to preserving their businesses, and the organization has been operating in a scaled back manner ever since.
“We aren’t really sure how large our scope will be moving forward at this point,” Gilbert said.
Destination Carlisle did not offer its annual Summer Bucket List event this year, but it did host the Carlisle Bunny Hop and Halloweekend.
Natalie Dohman, the owner of nDesign Art Haus on North Hanover Street, said she participated in the Carlisle Bunny Hop in April. The event offers activities for children and families at downtown businesses in the spring.
“I took part in my first Bunny Hop only weeks after I opened my doors and oh my gosh, it was insane,” she said. “But it was a great way for me to get the word out about the business.”
Similar missions, separate organizations
Several of the organizations dedicated to promoting businesses in downtown Carlisle and the surrounding area will claim to operate independently from the others, each with its own focus and means.
Nicole Deary, president and CEO of the Carlisle Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber does not have partnerships with the redevelopment authority or with Destination Carlisle, though each of them address business in the downtown area and some extend beyond the borough.
“We were never approached as an organization to work with the DCA or the chamber on any of their past initiatives or programs, and we don’t really know how much time we could’ve pledged to those initiatives anyway because our full-time jobs as business owners create crazy schedules that we have to work around,” Gilbert said.
She said that in the past, the DCA expressed a feeling that Destination Carlisle was redundant to their organization, and Jim Griffith said that he’s noticed previous tensions between local organizations, something he attributed to former miscommunications.
“I think people get either the wrong idea from a decision that someone made or they feel like they didn’t help them when they should or they helped them too much when they shouldn’t have, just small town stuff,” Jim Griffith said .
He said that while small, it seems that Carlisle has enough vitality to support similar organizations, citing several local coffee shops that co-exist close to each other. Create-A-Palooza gets along well with Carlisle Arts Learning Center, which also focuses on arts in the community, he said.
Jim Griffith said he’s seen a change as the town emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said almost served as a “time out.”
“We’re in a fresh point,” he said, adding that operations between several downtown and locally oriented organizations seem to be working well.
Another change has been that Downtown Carlisle named Stacey Gould Main Street manager in April, and Gilbert said Gould has expressed a “cooperative attitude” toward Destination Carlisle.
“Even if this simply means DCA will share our social media posts for our events, that would be a great improvement,” she said. “We’re hopeful for a new era in downtown where all businesses are fostered and supported along with initiatives meant to do that same thing whether they originate within DCA or some downtown business or an organization like our own. From what we’ve seen so far from the new staff, it seems we’re thankfully heading in that direction.”
Photos: Carlisle Chamber Mixer
Maddie Seiler is a news reporter for The Sentinel and cumberlink.com covering Carlisle and Newville. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at: @SeilerMadalyn