Business

Annual chamber Expo is planned for Oct. 18

Thursday, September 20, 2012

By MICHAEL CLEVELAND

Staff Writer

AMHERST – As the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce continued its preparations for its annual Southern New Hampshire Expo on Oct. 18, Chamber Executive Director May Balsama was thinking about numbers but, perhaps more important, pondering ways to ensure that people understand that the Expo isn’t just about business.

It’s about families.

Certainly the nearly 200 local companies, large and small, that will have booths at the Hampshire Dome at Hampshire Hills Sports and Fitness Club in Milford will talk about business among themselves and to visitors, but that’s only part of the impetus for the afternoon-long event.

Balsama believes the proof of that is in the number of people who came to Expo last year – 3,500 according to the Milford Fire Department.

“I think it’s a great number,” she said. “It’s growing.”

A big reason is the chance for consumers to meet one-on-one with local business people, to actually interview a plumber or a car dealer or an insurance agent before going to their store or inviting them to their home.

“We give them an opportunity to sample what’s going on, see what there is for businesses and have a good time doing it,” she said.

She called the Expo, which will run from 2-7:30 p.m., a great window on the businesses in the Valley.

“There really is something for everybody,” Balsama said. “Everything you could imagine is represented here.”

With a laugh she said, “It’s not just a lot of suits standing in booths. We have very active booths of people who sell food, people who provide health screenings in their booths, people who will provide other kinds of services.”

In past years, you could even get a massage.

For kids, the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will bring its Discovery Dome – a miniature planetarium – and there will be a bouncy house. Clowns and magicians will be around and there will be lots of music.

One of the primary missions of Expo is to let the public know what they can get locally.

“This is an opportunity to let businesses really showcase what they do,” she said. “One of the fun things that I see here every day are the ‘Aha!’ moments when I’m talking with someone about businesses and I can see the light dawn in someone’s eyes when they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think I could get that here.’ We have an incredible business community that can provide a number of the services that a lot of people have looked elsewhere for and that’s one of the things that the Expo does: showcase that.”

But fun is still the key for families who attend, Balsama believes.

“The entertainment will be great,” she said, mentioning the Kathy Blake dancers, a high school jazz band, a Beatles impersonator and, of course, the food samples.

“For the $6 cost of admission, you pretty much could eat dinner there that night,” she said.

And she just loves the Hampshire Dome.

“It’s a great venue because you really feel as if you’re walking on grass,” said Balsama. “It’s not walking on a cement floor, so it’s very comfortable. It just gives you a feel of being under a circus tent atmosphere.”

She calls the day a great chance for people to come and meet their neighbors – those in business and those in the Dome for a good time.

“This is your business community,” she said, “a business community that supports your sports teams, a business community that donates to your charity auctions. It’s a chance to meet them face-to-face and to find out what’s here so you can do business locally.”

Michael Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 301 or mcleveland@cabinet.com

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