RTM member, preservation advocate to head Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce
Updated 5:55 pm, Thursday, April 24, 2014
A Representative Town Meeting member active in historic preservation and environmental issues has been named to head the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce.
Matthew Mandell, a District 1 RTM member who once designed websites for a variety of businesses, began his duties Monday as the chamber's executive director and president.
He succeeds Heather Cavanaugh, who left the job after three months earlier this year to work for the Darien YMCA, chamber officials said. Previously, Lisa Parrelli-Gray had headed the organization for about two years.
Jonathan Baron, chairman of the chamber board of directors, said Mandell's "drive and passion for the town really became apparent" during the board's search for a new executive director.
The chamber represents the interests of about 300 business members from Westport, Weston and several neighboring communities.
In an interview Wednesday, Mandell said his goal as head of the ]merchants' group would be to promote local businesses so that the community buys their products and uses their services. He also said he wants to develop more interaction between the business community and residents.
"I'm not sure everybody understands what the chamber does," he said. He proposes using modern technology and marketing techniques to forge stronger relationships with the community.
Mandell has been active in promoting the Saugatuck section of town, and in 2011 and 2012, organized the Slice of Saugatuck, an outdoor festival that showcased the neighborhood's restaurants and food businesses.
The chamber had planned to run the festival in 2013, Mandell said, but it did not materialize. Now that he heads the chamber, he said he plans to bring the Slice of Saugatuck back this fall.
Mandell, 54, has limited hands-on business experience. He designed websites for a variety of businesses, he said, including law firms, medical practices, game designers and dance studios. With a master's degree in film from New York University, he also has produced short films. More recently, he said, he treated his RTM position as a full-time job.
But he said he gained experience working with businesses as an RTM member. He pointed to his work toward saving and relocating the historic Kemper-Gunn House as a downtown business property and working with Terrain, the Post Road garden center, to preserve a historic house on its property that Terrain wanted to demolish.
Mandell is in his fifth two-year term on the RTM and said he would retain his seat while heading the chamber of commerce. He is chairman of the RTM's Planning and Zoning Committee and serves on five others.
He has been a trustee of Earthplace, the Nature Discovery Center, since 2007. He was active in retaining as open space the 22-acre Partrick Wetlands and a six-acre parcel at the White Barn Theater.
Asked if his position on the RTM member and advocate for open space could conflict with his job an advocate for local businesses, Mandell said "no."
"I don't see any conflict," he said. Businesses can work with historic preservation, as the Kemper-Gunn House proves."
Baron, too, said he saw no potential conflict with Mandell's political activity.
"I see that as an asset (for the chamber)," he said. "We've heard a lot of positive comments about the appointment from the community.
Mandell is married, and he and his wife have two children who are students at Staples High School.