As a small business owner, Betsy Pollack saw firsthand a need for more support and marketing in the community. Instead of waiting for someone else to do something about it, she took matters into her own hands and started her online merchant directory, Our Town Crier.
Pollack manages all aspects of the site, from design to updating each of her merchant's listings when they offer new specials. She even takes the photos when needed, which is more often than not. Only two of the businesses on Our Town Crier upload and manage their own pages, though they all have login passwords. "If you want something done, give it to a busy person," she said while taking a moment to sit and talk in Barnes and Noble.
For site visitors, there is an opportunity to learn about businesses in Westport and to get keyed in on specials and sales. For business owners, the website offers an avenue to connect with customers.
The website lists a set of categories including services, professional services and retail and local talent. She recently added real-estate salespeople to the list. Another category lists local talent who aren't really businesses but offer products and services that might be of interest to people. "One of my main rules is there has to be an owner or operator on premises," said Pollack. "There are some chains, but the local owner must be directly involved."
Between bits of information about the site, Pollack slips in the occasional mention of her daughter who works in the coffee shop at the bookstore where Pollack sits and chats about her site. She also talks about her many years of working as a manager and owner of gift shops and how frustrating life can be for shop owners. But the conversation never strays far from the topic of her website. "I wish I had a resource like this available to me when I ran my shop," said Pollack.
Each business gets its own page on the site. The service isn't free however. A monthlong listing runs $50. Local talent listings Pollack lets slide and if a business is particularly struggling, Pollack cuts them a break as well. She would rather help an owner get his or her business on track than send them packing.
She could have used such a break as her own Westport gift store's viability diminished. Eventually, after decades of in the business, she closed her shop. "I had come up with the idea a year before the store closed," said Pollack. After the closure, serious effort went into making it happen. Last February, almost a year after the lights went off for the last time the soft glow of her website went up on the Internet for the first time.
Pollack treats the site and her services as a fully functional marketing and promotional organization. Every two weeks a digital newsletter goes out to the 8,000 people on her list. When member businesses look to hold events, she helps with planning and promotion. She is even considering holding her own business expo so people can see firsthand what her clients offer.
As a single mother of two Pollack has to find time to manage the website and her own social life. It's a ton of work she said, but she loves the challenge. "I'm kind of a perfectionist so I like doing it myself," Pollack said.
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