Amid a financial re-evaluation, the Lancaster Main Street Program is losing its director. But he & #039;s staying in town.
Bill Cook is resigning after only a year in the position.
"When I took the job and bought a house, people thought I was crazy," said Cook. "But we didn & #039;t come to Lancaster just for the Main Street job. We decided long ago this is where we want to live."
The "we" is Cook, his wife, Kate, and their three daughters, 8-year-old Bridgette, 5-year-old Emily and 18-month-old Meghan. The family relocated to the North Country from Brockton, Mass., about this time last year when Cook took the director & #039;s position. Prior to that the Cooks vacationed in the White Mountains every year, making an annual pilgrimage to Santa & #039;s Village in Jefferson for the children.
Cook was hired as the full-time director of the Main Street program, but the organization & #039;s financial position is strained and in September he agreed to work part-time. At the same time Cook began working part-time for Dean Walts at his Dalton Mountain GMC dealership.
Cook and Walts became friendly while Walts was on the Main Street Program & #039;s Board of Directors. He said the two hit it off right from the beginning.
"We have similar values and I respect him as a businessman," said Cook. "We & #039;re about the same age. We have similar interests and seeing his commitment to the community, well, right off, we hit it off."
Cook said it was during the summer when Walts talked of his expansion - new building, new lines, and the race track - that he started to get interested in the business and thought it would be exciting to sign on.
Cook has no experience working for an auto dealer, but Walts said that wasn & #039;t a problem.
"When we hire somebody, we look for two traits - talent and personality," said Walts. "If somebody has talent you can teach them anything. But if they don & #039;t have personality, it won & #039;t work. I & #039;m reluctant to say this, but Bill has both."
Cook was working about 25 hours for the Main Street program and about 35 hours for Walts. He said he was hopeful the two positions would work out, but he decided it was too much of a strain on himself and his family.
"The reason we moved up here was to get out of the rat race," he said. "And I wasn & #039;t doing either job any justice."
So he decided to leave the Main Street program, a decision which he said was in his financial best interest.
Cook described the Main Street program as "being at a crossroads."
He said the Lancaster Industries Fund, which supported the program with $10,000 a year, has dried up and the board has to decide what it can afford to do.
"The board did decide not to start the process of hiring until they have a clear picture of its financial situation and the new board is in place," said Cook.
The board will have four new members in January and the program is in the middle of a fund-raising drive.
Last week more than 1,500 letters were mailed to Lancaster residents, highlighting the program & #039;s accomplishments and requesting a contribution to continue the program & #039;s efforts to protect and improve the downtown area.
Since its inception four years ago, the Lancaster Main Street Program has brought more than $140,000 in grants to town for the construction and operation of the new Great North Woods Welcome Center and the Riverwalk Project.
The Welcome Center opened this summer and according to literature, it has already served more than 3,000 visitors from 48 states, eight Canadian provinces and 12 foreign countries. The renovation project, however, ran higher than anticipated and now has a $60,000 debt with another $15,000 of work still to be completed.
The Riverwalk project built a bridge to the island in the middle of the Israel Rover and a nature walk and picnic area. Next year another bridge will link the downtown to the riverfront in both the summer and winter, connecting to the region & #039;s snowmobile trails.
The program has also organized or expanded what have now become annual events such as The Annual Street Fair, Olde Tyme Christmas, Lancaster Cooks Food Fair & Cookbook and the Everything That Moves Show.
The volunteer organization also looks at ways to improve or enhance the downtown area, co-sponsoring projects such as the flower boxes in the summer, Christmas lights and the Farmer & #039;s Market in the summer and fall.
For more information on the Main Street program, contact the office at the Welcome Center on Main Street at 603-788-2476.