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From event planning to community outreach, the town of Unicoi is showing up the Chamber

It’s no secret that the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce and the town of Unicoi have always had a rocky relationship.
What is surprising, perhaps, is how the town has excelled at hosting successful community events while the Chamber has become somewhat narrowly focused.
The town of Unicoi has even seized upon an opportunity to prove that it – and not the Chamber – knows how to be a draw for community support and tourism dollars.
Even with Christmas 2009 not even a month since passed, the town recently announced it will host its first-ever Christmas parade on Dec. 11, 2010. The town also quickly – and pointedly – announced that its Christmas parade would definitely include the Shriners, funny cars and all.
That announcement was a not-so-subtle slap at the Chamber and its holiday parade fiasco in which officials, in November, told members of the Jericho Shrine they couldn’t ride their traditional “funny cars” in the Erwin parade. The Shriners left in a huff, and many in the community expressed everything from dismay to contempt for the Chamber, which receives tens of thousands of dollars in annual tax dollars from the town of Erwin and Unicoi County.
The town of Unicoi, however, has, for years, rebuffed the Chamber’s requests for funding – saying the Chamber no longer has its pulse on the community’s well being.
The Chamber may have, perhaps unintentionally by offending the Shriners, proven Unicoi’s point.
It’s not all that surprising, considering that the town of Unicoi’s community outreach has far exceeded the Chamber’s in recent years. Consider these facts:
• The town has restored the historic Bowman-Bogart Cabin and has begun a successful annual “Heritage Celebration” on the grounds.
• Unicoi revamped the Strawberry Festival, named it in honor of the late farmer, educator and philanthropist Wayne Scott and created a much-praised springtime event.
• And the town is a patriotic beacon with Freedom Fest, the county’s biggest Fourth of July celebration.
Compare that with the Chamber’s dismal community performance. While the Chamber’s two-day Apple Festival remains, without any doubt, an annual highlight and the Erwin Christmas Parade still shines despite the tarnish from the Shriner fiasco, the rest of the year is, sadly, lacking in Chamber-sponsored communitywide events.
The Chamber has, in fact, canceled nearly every other major event it once held – Arts in the Park, Wilderness Expo, the Citizen of the Year Banquet, the Erwin Easter Egg Hunt at Fishery Park, Civil War Days, Keep Unicoi County Beautiful and even the Summer in the Park concert series.
There’s an age-old lesson here, too, and that is, always do the best job you can, because there’s always someone willing to take your spot.
The town of Unicoi, it seems, is anxious to prove that theory.