Patrick Siler, the new Executive Director of the Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce, is gearing up for one of the town’s busiest weeks with the Annual July 4th Celebration.
Since Patrick began in his new position, there are not enough hours in the day to get to everything he needs to do – run the chamber, navigate through a myriad of red tape in order to secure grants, as well as develop a plan to grow Schroon, its tourism and find a way to attract new businesses and residents to town
We caught up with Patrick a couple of weeks into his new job for a sit down interview. Here he shares his vision about the future of Schroon Lake, the challenges that are ahead and the steps that have to be taken to have a robust town and economy.
Schroon Laker: What have you learned?
Patrick: There's an awful lot. I knew the job was going to be challenging. I've gotten a better sense of exactly where the challenges are. Really, the biggest challenge that I see at this point is because of our limited resources, we have to run a visitors bureau out of the front of this building and we have to run a chamber of commerce out of the back.
At least for now, I've got the task of doing both of those things and really they're too wholly different skill sets requiring wholly different head space. I'll be working back here in the chamber office calling businesses and making sure that we've got photos on the visitor's website so that they get their click-throughs maximized, but when the door-bell rings outside, I have to go in the front and talk to people about where they can hike or ride horses, or what happened to that restaurant that they loved and whatever else their question might be.
Schroon Laker: What's the steepest learning curve besides balancing the two jobs?
Patrick: The steepest learning curve, for now, is the Fourth of July Parade which until this year had been put together in tandem with the chamber but was largely the result of highly active community members, just personal community members, not an organization per se. This year, the chamber is taking it on as an organization and so we have good notes from Kate Houston who really drove the ship in years past. Good notes about who to contact and what the logistics of it are, but it's a big event as I'm sure you can imagine. A lot of moving pieces, a lot of people to make sure are in touch with each other and they're all in touch with me and so forth. That's the biggest thing so far on the organizational side.
Schroon Laker: Are you on schedule to go smoothly for the July 4th?
Patrick: July 4th will be great. It's going to be a great event as it has been. I believe this is our 60th year with the Fourth of July Parade and I know people from all over the Adirondacks come to Schroon Lake for that event because it's always a very good time. We got a lot of support from the community….I am looking for some people maybe to sponsor the parade and some other events that are going on there, but we have music booked at the beach for the whole day of festivities. We've got all the pieces in order for the parade as usual. We'll have fireworks. The Seagle Colony is going to sing for us. It's going to be a great time.
Schroon Laker: And is the firework display going to be the same as last year? Bigger, better, different?
Patrick: I know that the budget for it is the same as last year, so I have not heard anything about major differences to the fireworks display. Problems with last year’s fireworks have been resolved. (Editor’s note: The 2013 July 4th fireworks display was widely criticized for being too short in duration, due to a small barge. That problems was rectified for the Labor Day Fire Works) Our really great volunteer board has taken the ball and running with this. That's me coming into.
Schroon Laker: There are many good things happening on your watch – the renovation of the Yellow Coach Motel and the Woods Lodge on schedule to get matching grant money,
Patrick: Great things and really that just gets me to ... a reason that I'm very excited that the (Schroon Lake Chamber) board decided to just muster the resources to make this position possible at this time. I ran the Adirondack Shakespeare Company as you know. I've been coming to Schroon Lake my entire life. It has been so disappointing through much of that time to feel a town that has these memories of a golden era in days long past. There's been through most of my life times that I can remember the sense of melancholy in the community of all those good all days and then largely economic stagnation in the present.
It feels to me over the last three to five years, we've really had a new generation of very bright, very energetic, very dedicated entrepreneurs come in to town. Some of them are coming back.
Many of these people are incredibly active in the chamber, some of them are on the board. It seems to me that for the first time in my life that this region, the Schroon Lake Region, not just the town, but the whole region around it is really primed with the right boost and the right spur behind it to take off…with all the right pieces working together.
Lodging has a lot to do with it, but it's also great events. We have a couple of really wonderful anchor events in Schroon Lake like the July 4th Parade, all of the July festivities, the marathon in the autumn.
But I’m looking for more things to do to really highlight what Schroon Lake has that's unique to Adirondack Park. This is a cultural community that you're not going to find anywhere else even places where they have an art center and a dedicated building for it. They're importing acts rom other places like the Seagle Colony performs at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts because there's nothing like Seagle Colony in Lake Placid.
The Adirondack Shakespeare Company performs at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts because there's nothing like it over there. We have the Schroon Lake Arts Council doing this great concert series and we can do more with that. I'm going to be talking to Tony Kosteki t Seagle Colony about their Jazz Fest. I love the notion of a Jazz Fest and I think that could become an even greater thing.
There's much to be done at Scaroon Manor which I know few people who remember those golden days and look back at Marjorie Morningstar and the age of the great camps. Now, the state knows about Scaroon Manor. They know that it's there. The Shakespeare Company is officially now stewards of the amphitheater
Schroon Laker: I've heard this repeated a couple of times by people who have been coming from many, many years and the comment is: "We don't want Schroon Lake to change. We just want Schroon Lake to be the same way it’s been for the last 20 years”\
Patrick: Most of the business owners in town are probably not going to say that. I think I know a lot of the seasonal residents like to think of Schroon as quiet…The business people? There's a deep conservative streak in the business community which I think comes from at least one full generation of economic stagnation where your mentality becomes, "I have two months of the year in which I need to make all the money I'm going to make to get through to next summer. If we change anything between those two summers, it's going to create a risk that I won't make that much, That I won't make enough money to survive till next year."
Very naturally, you end up with a tendency to say, "We did it that way last year and it got me through to this year, so I'm not rocking the boat." That's in the business community. And to that mentality, I say, we could be doing so much more that you won't have to count on just those two months to get you through to next year.
We can and must extend our season beyond the Fourth of July through Labor Day period and events like the marathon. We're looking more at harvest events, winter events, spring and mud season. It's always going to be difficult, but we'll find something, but this is going to be a year round destination for tourists. All of that will create more opportunities for residents and we'll have more long term residents.
Schroon Laker: So that mandate about it's going to be a year round destination, is that your idea or was it the mandate given to you by the committee who hired you?
Patrick: That was a point of agreement between myself and the committee that hired me. It was a discussion that they had already had and I think somewhere that I was in tune with them that help them understand that I would be right on board with that sort of agenda. Because I come up here every chance I get and my whole adult life has been spent in looking for a way to work up here so that I can live here full time. It's very hard to do.
When you know that it's what you want, well how do you find a job? You have to pay bills at some point and how do you find the job that lets you pay your bills? It's difficult to do. It took me 34 years, but I'm here now and I think that there are more people in the similar boat that if they could come back here. If there was a job where they could have a satisfying career and a beautiful quality of life and a place that they like better than any place else, they would come back too.
Now, to the seasonal resident that says, "I want Schroon Lake to stay quiet," I say, "If you like being able to go to the supermarket while you're here and if you like having any sort of Main Street to walk through at all while you're here, you must recognize that the economic reality is if we do not grow, this town dies. The window of opportunity is not long on that, it is far more eminent than a lot of people would recognize. This place could be a ghost town and it could happen quickly.
Schroon Laker: What does it mean for Schroon lake to soon have full broadband access through SLIC? In terms of more opportunities for business here, does that play into the part of your job bringing new business ideas, ventures here?
Patrick: I certainly think it will. I would love to see ... For an economy like this one that is so dominated by tourism, it's tricky to find industry that can come in to town without disrupting the quality of life that people really count on and that the tourists are going to expect to see.
You can't get a paper mill and throw it where the beach is and that just won't happen and nobody would try to make that happen because whatever benefits you got from importing that sort of industry, you would completely demolish the other sort of industry.
But the American economy is now, not even just service, but really idea based. Not that we're likely to be Silicon Valley any time soon, but things more in the tech industry with our cultural background, things like video game development and design and things where real connection to tremendous beauty and the sort of natural aesthetic that we have here would be an asset.
We could get those sort of businesses, more ideas based industries into town, but we need, for any of that sort of business, they need to know that as they're developing their online presence that they're going to be able to communicate with main office in another state or they're doing work on digital files that are large because they are doing animation for a video game that they're designing.
They need to be able to transfer them, maybe even watch them in real time with somebody that's located in a distant place. I know we got a lot of people up here now who telecommute. We have just demographically speaking, we have a lot of residents, seasonal, long term folks like me that are getting here every chance they get who can work from home as long as the technology allows them to do that.
If you don't have any reliable connection though, you can't ... When you go up into the mountains, you might as well be dead and sometimes it's a relief. You want to say I'm here and nobody can get to me, but if we're talking about dollars flowing through the community and keeping it alive, getting the middle manager or senior manager who doesn't have to be in his office all the time, would much rather be up here, but needs to check in with his office on a regular basis. He may be able to Skype to somebody with a reliable Wi-Fi.
With Slic and broadband, it's a lot easier to get that guy, that girl, that person, keep them here so they can have lunch down the street, they can take a canoe trip, they can hike up Severance. They can do whatever it is they want to do here in Schroon Lake and still checking with their office when they need to.
Schroon Laker: Let's blue sky here, this time next year, you'd be in the job for 12 months, what will be different about Schroon Lake?
Patrick: In a year, we'll have 50% more members in this chamber. We will have 50% more off season events. And we will begin to do some of the things that go into the summer a little bit differently. Ourselves at the chamber are in the don't rock the boat category with some of the major anchor events like the Fourth of July. But there are some things even about our beloved events that need desperately to change if we're going to really make an environment that says to people and other parts of the Adirondacks or people thinking about coming to the Adirondacks that they should be coming here rather than some other Adirondack town that doesn't have the same sorts of resources.
It needs to be an easier environment for a new business, a food vendor, an entertainer that wants to do music when the people are here on the Fourth. It needs to be a more open and accepting environment for people to come in rather than the door closing because they haven't been here before. Which is something that's in place and that we are somewhat guilty of for this year because it's our first year doing the parade.
The main thing that we want to demonstrate is that we can handle it. We can put the parade together, but in two short weeks here, I'm identifying a lot of simple things. There won't be drastic changes to the event itself, but we can make some changes in the openness and accessibility of that event to more people and basically take it from what is already a great event for the people that are used to coming to it to an even greater event for more people.
And perhaps over a longer span of time which will really become important when we have new lodging facilities looking to book up beds. Events that run more than one day so that people can swing into town and then roll out.
A year like this year where Fourth of July falls on a Friday, you better believe that if I had had more time and ability to steer the course of what this event was going to be, it would be a long weekend, rather than the day. There's no reason when you have Fourth of July on a Friday that you should not be celebrating Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
I can tell you that the interest in coming to Schroon Lake to participate in our Fourth of July festivities because we've had something here for 60 years, the interest amongst vendors and musicians and people wanting to get in to that event warrants more time.
It's going to look this year like it's looked. That's a baseline. That's a good place to start. A year from now, I'm not sure if the fourth falls on a Saturday, probably on a Saturday next year. We'll probably be looking at a weekend. Then depending on how that goes some more of that sort of long form event playing out over time so that we have two things working in tandem, places to stay and things to do. You can't focus too much on one without the other. They both rely on each other, but they both need attention.