After 37 years of town involvement, the Occoquan Merchants Association voted to fold on Sept. 19.
The events that the OMA ran will be distributed among individual merchants and the Business Guild.
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The OMA voted 20-2 to disband, with 10 members in attendance at the meeting, and the rest voting by proxy.
"It's been a long time coming, really," OMA secretary and Spiral Creations owner Kathy Alden said. "Basically, over time, when the OMA was very big, the shops down here were full, and they often had staff. We've gotten to the point where a lot of shops have one person. So getting people to volunteer for things was hard, because we were saying, 'Ok, if you're going to come and volunteer, you're going to shut your door and not make any sales.' That's difficult."
Nevertheless, Alden and OMA Vice President and Kelly's Artbox owner Kelly Campbell believe that this change could be good for the town.
"I don't feel like the town's going to die because the OMA's not going to be around any more," Campbell said. "I definitely feel like it's a positive move. We're allowing individuals to take responsibility for these things that they've been working on for several years."
For example, Campbell pointed out, Kay Pietrewicz is taking over the ghost tours, after running it for a few years under the OMA's direction.
"She can do more with it now," Campbell said. "There's no micromanaging. The economy has changed so much that instead of us having the time to be able to volunteer to do big events, we're so focused on our individual businesses that it's time for a change."
"Instead of having volunteers try to do it, you've got somebody who's got a vested interest in making it," Alden said.
The OMA's folding is bittersweet, Campbell and Alden acknowledged. The organization was instrumental in the town for a few decades.
"But it was time for new blood, and we're tired," Campbell said.
Alden said that the current board members had been serving for two to four years, and that only two merchants were interested in taking over the OMA board. Because the OMA is a 501 (c), they had to have at least five board members.
The former members of the OMA have committed to continuing to communicate informally with each other and the town. Alden and Campbell pointed to Art on the Block and the Lemonade Yard Sale as examples of successful events run without OMA involvement.
"Change is not a bad thing," Alden said. "New things will come about."
To contact Pietrewicz about the ghost tours, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The historical events will go to the Occoquan Historical Society. Christine Myskowski at Salt & Pepper Books will continue to run the Occoquan Farmers Market. The Business Guild will take charge of Santa Arrives by Boat. An as yet unnamed Occoquan organization will take the Occoquan guide.
"We've found homes for things," Alden said.