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Local Business Gives New Meaning to "Present"

State of the Arts


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 . . .”