Outside of Jay Harman, I am not sure anyone will know the answers to my two questions.
Question #1: What does the White Elephant, Wells, Maine, a VW bus, UNH, a crazy cousin, Covid and the C.B.A. have in common?
Answer: Peter Burke.
Question #2: Who is Peter Burke?
Peter Burke is the new executive director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce. Without a tremendous amount of fanfare, Peter was hired last April and immediately jumped in with both feet as the summer season of ’22 was about to explode. Perhaps his quiet arrival was by design or maybe we were all preoccupied at the time; but I’ll be honest, I did not know who Peter Burke was either until recently.
“A friend of mine saw the job post last year,” said Burke, a 2007 UNH grad. “I had been working on and off the island for many years primarily with Cisco Brewers climbing the corporate ladder to eventually being their national sales manager. I felt this job would be an interesting change for me. I am not a brain surgeon, but I felt strongly that some of my experiences with team building, team management, sales and organizational behavior would all be strengths for me in this position. I interviewed and here I am.”
Getting “here” actually started back in 2008 when a crazy cousin convinced Peter to work part time at The White Elephant on Sunday mornings representing Mixerz and Triple 8 Distillery. Burke would commute down from Nashua, NH early in the morning for the four-hour stint on Easton Street before turning back around for Nashua in the afternoon. “That was crazy, but I fell in love with Nantucket.”
Burke’s first break came later in 2008 when he took a position with Cisco Brewers on Nantucket.
“I was a delivery driver during the week and the owners set me up with housing via Sperry Tents. I was used to the hectic summer season but the offseason on Nantucket was new to me. I met lots of people - service industry, delivery guys, softball players, you name it. What I realized right away was that if you are willing to work, there are plenty of opportunities out here”.
From 2008 until he accepted the Chamber’s position, Burke had an eclectic collection of jobs and responsibilities from driving Cisco’s VW bus up and down the East Coast to working with Matt Lambo to delivering magazines and jockeying antique furniture to working with the Craft Brew Alliance (C.B.A.) and eventually pivoting during Covid to a management role with Cisco which was expanding as the brewery’s network exploded nationwide.
“I was always selling Nantucket,” said Burke. “But I knew I wanted something more. Everyone at Cisco was incredibly supportive of my decision to apply. I summered in Wells, Maine, traveled and worked in 26 states but there’s nothing quite like Nantucket. One of the things I noticed was that a majority of people that come to Nantucket are ‘travelers.’ So was I. Now as the Chamber’s director, I want to work with the island community and make sure that those who do travel to Nantucket have a positive experience.”
Knowing I would be meeting with Burke, I felt it was important to start our discussion with full disclosure. I advised Peter that I used to be a Chamber member but not at this time. As a young business owner many years ago, I probably did not want to part with the money. Moreover, I bet I did not understand the true role of the Chamber on Nantucket. Ignorance is not bliss, so, my bad on both.
But today is a new day and Peter Burke is a new director. And with the overwhelming explosion of interest in Nantucket and the associated snarling of traffic, restaurants, beaches, people, dogs, cats and crime, I think it was fair to go for the jugular vein and ask: Is the Chamber encouraging too many people to come to the island and does it truly represent everyone and every business on Nantucket?
“It’s a fair question and a question that we often ask ourselves,” offered Burke. He added, “A blanket promotion that simply says ‘Come to Nantucket’ is not healthy. We want to promote healthy visiting - perhaps leave your car behind or emphasize some of our awesome natural resources. An appropriate amount of tourism is good for Nantucket’s commerce and we need to remind people that our goal is finding that healthy balance.”
One interesting thing I learned about Peter is his goal of “maximizing dialogue.”
“We want to be the conduit of information. We are not elected officials or a licensing agency. We want to have more open dialogue with our members and the public,” said Burke.
“For example, if the Town of Nantucket is discussing street performers or outside dining, litter or something that might impact ‘Main Street,’ we want to collect our member’s voices and help move the discussion forward,” said Burke. “It is important to listen to our membership and understand how one subject can affect various members in so many different ways. We have the platform and we want to use our strengths and get everyone involved.”
“Having said that, it’s important that we remind people that ‘Visit Nantucket’ campaigns are critical. But more importantly, it’s getting everyone to understand that the best way to promote the island and the sentiment of our membership is to find that healthy balance that I mentioned earlier. And I can tell you, that’s not lip service”.
Director Burke has had a honeymoon of sorts. By coming on board last April, it has given him one summer season under his belt. But to be fair, he does not have one full year under his command just yet. As Burke gains control of the ship, he does it with a supportive Board of Directors, and a crew of talent around him such as Ivana Stoyanov as director of growth, Bianca Brown as events manager, Kelly Scrima as marketing manager, Jackie McGrady heading business operations and Karen Macumber spear-heading the Chamber’s Nantucket Island Center for Entrepreneurship (NICE).
I have to be honest. He sounded pretty convincing. Anyone that has the eyes and ears of almost 800 members must be doing something right. So I’ll admit it: While I am still torn and feeling ambivalent about rejoining, I have a pen in my hand but I just can’t seem to locate my checkbook.
So, what’s the best I can offer?
I want to give Peter and the Chamber of Commerce a full year and see where they are going. There’s something about this guy’s enthusiasm that is infectious. It’s clear the Chamber hired the person for the role vs. letting the role define the hire. I like that approach. Maybe the Chamber starts out the season with an easy one like increasing their financial commitment to local scholarships at the high school; but in the meantime, let’s see if Peter and the Chamber can find that “healthy balance” he mentioned because the jury is still out.
So, as we wait for the 2023 season to unfold with Captain Peter Burke at the helm, I think it’s official. We do need to pose a third question:
How does Burke respond to those people who believe the Chamber of Commerce is pushing a hyper-aggressive, promotional campaign that encourages too many travelers to come to Nantucket?
Time will tell. But as they say, the third question is always a charm...