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Local Business Gives New Meaning to "Present"

State of the Arts

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Anyone who strolls down Pine Street in Burlington has slowed to admire the rhino head bursting through the clapboards at Conant Metal & Light. The fiberglass creature, purchased at an antique store and installed a decade ago, was “one of the two best things we ever did” for marketing purposes, says owner and mastermind Steve Conant.

This year — in the midst of a customer-deterring recession — he thought, Let’s do something really big that people can see. The ingenious result was an enormous red ribbon wrapped around the entire building — with a bow on top — making it look like the biggest gift on Earth. The “ribbon” is some 200 feet of PVC banner material. This come-hither décor is accompanied by “gift tags” announcing a 25- to 50-percent discount sale — “in honor of the economy,” Conant says. It’s a good time, he explains cheerfully, to increase cash flow and reduce inventory.

The approach has been effective. Last Saturday, the store — illuminated by hundreds of new and refurbished antique lamps — was hopping with light-seeking holiday shoppers.

Another critter protrudes from Conant’s creative façade; though it resembles a bull’s head, it is actually the original, unadulterated grille and headlights of a 1937 Hudson Terraplane. The complex housing Conant and other businesses sports a colorful paint job, and not long ago a bottle-shaped sign popped up to label the whole place the “Soda Plant.”

Conant says he won’t repeat the “wrapped” idea next year. But he’s delighted to have found another red-ribbon mission: Annie Bourdon, executive director of the new Carshare Vermont program, needs big bows for the eight vehicles that will be on display outside City Hall next Monday, December 15. “What a great opportunity to use up the remaining material on the roll,” Conant declares in an email, adding drolly, “Of course, in a moment of weakness, I offered to make them for free. Hey, who knows, maybe big-bow making could augment lagging lighting sales in a slow economy . . .”

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