Photo by Dave Warner – Elaine Cobb (center) works one of the volunteer tables during the 2021 Pizza Challenge.

by Elaine Cobb and Jessica Kelly

On Small Business Saturday, November 24th, 2012 Think Local Little Falls kicked off our venture to support our independent Little Fall businesses and to help this community discover the services and specials offered right here at home. Our dues for business members were $12 annually and Elaine printed from home a one-column list of specials available on the Third Thursday of each month.

We were not a great success at the beginning, but we forged ahead with this mighty band of Main Street First Members led by Elaine Cobb. Main Street First members went out faithfully every Third Thursday to shop and then met for dinner at the Piccolo to celebrate the little successes and bemoan our failures. Oscar Stivala played for free so many times that Elaine lost count. Jayne Ritz along with Elaine Sperbeck and Elaine Cobb decorated empty storefronts for every season and holiday…do you remember all those hearts hanging in the windows…every size and color? Christine Shahin was always there with a shoulder for Elaine to moan on as we faced the challenges presented by what at that time seemed like an insurmountable task. What do you say in our second year when a business owner says, “We have to pay dues every year?”

Chris Van Meter, Elaine’s first Co-Chair, brought expertise for funding and a fertile mind filled with ideas we could try; thus began our first event…a Starving Artists Faire. Planned for June on Main Street, we were filled with hope… we had vendors and music on Main Street with bounce houses and activities for kids in the M&T parking lot and oodles of merchant specials. Twas the hottest day of the year, it felt like it was over 100 degrees…the chocolate vendor was in tears as her products melted and Chris and Elaine fretted about the kids in the M&T parking lot getting sunburned. The next year we moved this event to July in Canal Place where there was shade and grass…which proves you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Through the inevitable ups and downs, we continued to grow; adding breadth to our offerings and trying out new events. Our committee grew from a mere few to many, including powerhouses; Pooniel Bumsted, Laura Powers, and Jessica Kelly who has served as Co-Chair for several years and on whom we have relied to move Think Local forward. So many ideas circulating that it was difficult for us to keep up. Now we have an Instagram account and a FaceBook presence maintained with such skill and poise by Laura Powers. Then along came Ginny Rogers; she created our amazing Think Local Little Falls website and transformed our brochures into works of art. We now produce an 11 x 17 double-sided brochure with 2,500 of them distributed within the City of Little Falls and throughout the area from Frankfort to Canajoharie to Dolgeville each month. Special thanks to Bob Critser of DSP Images of Herkimer for all his incredible design help in creating our banners and billboards.

When we began we printed this phrase on our direct mailing to the community; Community is a compound word from “Come in Unity”. Come they have. We have forged relationships throughout this community and beyond; with our City Government, the Youth and Family Center (formerly the YMCA), John Sullivan & the Little Falls DPW crew, our Little Falls City School System, the Herkimer Chamber of Commerce, Herkimer Community College, and so many other not for profits…the list stretches on and on. Then there are the endless number of volunteers within this community who seamlessly do a multitude of tasks; from delivering brochures to decorating windows, to cleaning windows, to help setting up artist’s displays… to doing absolutely anything we need to be done! These same volunteers respond over and over again, year after year. Thank you!

We would be remiss if we didn’t also thank Mayor Mark Blask and Mr. Tony DeLuca for their friendship, their endless support, and their encouragement. They have stepped up every time we have asked. We would not be where we are today without them.

We now have few funding issues. We raised our dues to $30 annually and our business community responded by giving us that and more…hiking their inputs to help with buskers($75), sponsorships($150), and costs of billboards($500). Community members have also generously donated money, as have other community groups. And we are now much more adept at finding grant opportunities.

Covid has wounded us, but we will come back stronger than ever. We have an energetic, young committee of very capable people, and our ties within this community and throughout the area are still strong. But change is always inevitable and often happens when we least expect it.

At this time, Jessica and Elaine find they can no longer lead this committee and must step aside, not only for the benefit of Think Local Little Falls but for this community as a whole. An autoimmune disease has robbed Elaine Cobb of the energy, endurance, and physical ability to do the job she has so loved. At the same time, unfortunately, Jessica Kelly’s personal commitments no longer leave her the time needed to devote to chairing Think Local. There is so much left for Think Local to do, but it is time to pass the torch. So, we have asked our friend and Main Street First Vice-Chair, David Dardzinski, to carry on in our stead. As David says, “He will be the puppet regime with Elaine & Jessica pulling the strings.”

In closing, we want to wholeheartedly thank this community, and in particular, the Little Falls business community, for all the support you have shown Think Local Little Falls throughout the years and in turn us. It has been greatly appreciated!

We leave you in the very capable hands of David Dardzinski and our Think Local Committee; Laura Powers, Pooniel Healy, Ginny Rogers, Laura Eysaman, Alana Basloe, Mary Trombley, and Kelly Scarano-Grcic. You will still see both of us around and you will hear our voices in the background, but we will no longer lead the charge. In addition, as Think Local is a standing member of the Board of Main Street First, MSF members have agreed to step up and help fill any voids.

The future looks bright! We look forward to what is yet to come.