BRATTLEBORO -- The Agency of Commerce held a hearing at the Latchis Theatre in June to talk to property and business owners about potential funding options to help those still recovering from Tropical Storm Irene.
Rep. Mollie Burke, D-Brattleboro, attended that hearing expecting to hear some good news about the relief efforts that were still going on, nine months after the devastating flood.
She left the meeting, though, realizing that state and federal aid was probably not going to be able to help all of the businesses that were still reeling from the events of Aug. 28, 2011.
"We found that day that 80 percent of the funding that was available was going to Washington and Windsor counties," Burke said this week. "A few of us came out of that meeting feeling like we needed to do something."
After the meeting Burke, Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jerry Goldberg, and some others talked about holding an event to raise some money for Brattleboro businesses.
They realized that there were way too many unmet needs, but at the same time it became clear that Brattleboro businesses that were affected by the flood needed help, so they decided to swing into action.
And this Saturday, a community dance party will be held to support those businesses.
On Sept. 8, at 8 p.m., at the River Garden, the Keene Jazz Orchestra with Scott Mullett will play dance music for "Swingin’ at the Garden,"
The Chamber of Commerce is suggesting a $20 donation to get in, though no one will be turned away, and anyone is welcome to give more.
All of the proceeds will go toward the Irene Business Recovery Fund.
The Agency of Commerce meeting was an eye opener for Burke. Business owner after business owner talked about the frustrating and time consuming process of applying for aid. They talked about the inventory and business losses and told heart breaking stories about being able to barley hold on.
"I did not know the extent of the damage," she said. "People were afraid. They did not know where to turn."
Goldberg said he was planning on having the Keene Jazz Orchestra last year, and the band was scheduled to play in town a week after Irene hit.
Goldberg canceled the event last year, and had already rescheduled it for this year when Burke asked him if he had any ideas for a fund raiser.
"We knew we had to do something and this was perfect," Goldberg said. "We know we can’t fill the vast need that is out there. This is a chance for the community to step forward and do something, and have fun doing it."
After the event the money will spent, in some way, to support businesses in Brattleboro and West Brattleboro that were affected by Tropical Storm Irene.
Burke said it was not yet clear how the money is going to be spent.
Grants might be given, funds could be used to help business owners write grant applications or the money might be used to promote downtown businesses.
The business owners will have a say in how the money will be spent.
"We don’t want this to be a top down decision," said Goldberg. "We want to take the money to the business owners and ask them what would be the best way to spend it."
Goldberg also said that while there are businesses that are still recovering, the dance is a chance to come out and celebrate just how far Brattleboro has come since the flood.
"We do have a lot to celebrate," he said. "We have all need these businesses. In a lot of ways this is not over for many people and here is a way to show them that we understand, and we care."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer