Just getting started

The Bristol community enjoyed a viewing party of Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Over the past year, Bristol has gone through some incredible changes. Anyone who walked down Mill Street or along the riverfront could see something special was taking place. It was a revolution. On Thursday, Sept. 28, at St. Mark School, the energy and excitement of the borough was fit to bursting as locals gathered for a long awaited moment — the premiere of “Small Business Revolution.”

Bristol pride: A crowd of passionate Bristolians gathered at St. Mark School for a special showing of Small Business Revolution on Sept. 28. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

During a special viewing party held at the school, family, friends, officials and business owners gathered together to celebrate their massive accomplishment. “Small Business Revolution,” a Hulu series created by Deluxe Corporation, received an unprecedented 14,000 applications from towns nationwide, all vying to be featured on its second season and receive a massive, million-dollar makeover. Needless to say, Bristol came out victorious.

A reception was held beginning at 6:15 p.m. where guests could enjoy a buffet-style meal and desserts, all while mingling and enjoying a slide show presentation of photos recapping the “Small Business Revolution” experience.

At 7 p.m., Raising the Bar president Bill Pezza addressed the crowd, reflecting on all the time, effort and dedication put forth by the community to make the revolution a success.

“This is going to be a destination,” he said of Bristol.

Established in 1681, Bristol was always a bustling area with small town charm. That is, until the late ’70s and early ’80s when the mills closed, jobs left and shopping malls threatened local shops. Things certainly looked bleak. But Pezza went on to explain how the borough began moving in a positive direction after the creation of the Bristol Riverside Theatre in the mid-’80s. What used to be a triple X-rated adult movie shop was transformed into a family-friendly haven for the arts. From there, the only direction was up.

When Amanda Brinkman, Deluxe’s chief brand officer, and her team first encountered Bristol, they were pleasantly surprised. While many towns need to start building from the ground up, a solid foundation was already established. The local business owners were just looking for someone to help them take the next step.

A dedicated community: Amanda Brinkman told the crowd, “You’re about to be an example to the rest of the country about how important small businesses are.” SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

“You rallied around this contest and working together to win it,” Brinkman said to the crowd. “You’re about to be an example to the rest of the country about how important small businesses are. You guys were open and honest to change.”

When the lights went down, St. Mark erupted in cheers as episode 1 began to play on the large projection screen. For the rest of the country who may not be familiar with Bristol, the first few minutes of the show are enough to understand what the community is all about. An opening scene shows locals gathered at Bristol Riverside Theatre months prior for the announcement of the “Small Business Revolution” winner. Watching the reaction as they learn the news brings chills as hugs are shared and tears are shed.

The episode then follows Pezza as he takes Brinkman on her first tour of Bristol. As they walk along Main Street, shop owners and locals begin to tag along to voice their appreciation and excitement. By the end, the tiny group expands to dozens vying to meet the woman about to bring new life to their town.

“We don’t have to start a movement. We get to join one that’s already in progress,” Brinkman said.

Over the next few days, more than 100 local businesses met with Brinkman and her team, who then narrowed this number down to 20. In a speed-dating style format, owners had the chance to talk about what their business means to them and what assistance “Small Business Revolution” could provide. Based on need and who could benefit the most, the final six businesses were chosen — Discover, Learn and Grow, Hems Truck and Auto, Annabella’s Italian Restaurant, Keystone Boxing, Polka Dot Parlor and Miguel’s Barber Shop.

Each business was paired with an industry expert from Deluxe, and on each episode, a different one will be highlighted. Throughout the season, viewers can watch experts assist the owners with the creation of social media, revamping websites and attracting a larger audience, all while getting a glimpse into the lives of these hard-working individuals.

For Pezza, it’s all about bringing new life to an already passionate community. Though he knows Bristol won’t be what it was 50 years ago, it can be something even better. With its diverse culture, scenic view of the Delaware River and convenient location to Philadelphia, he doesn’t see why it can’t be the next great tourist attraction. And though “Small Business Revolution” is over, he explained how the seeds have been planted for future generations to continue to grow the borough. Bristol is just getting started.

“It’s the beginning of challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” Pezza said. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com