Friday, May 20, 2022

Person of the Week

Judy Sullivan: Leading the Chamber Through Challenging Times

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Old Saybrook native Judy Sullivan has been leading the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade.

Photo courtesy of Judy Sullivan

Old Saybrook native Judy Sullivan has been leading the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade. (Photo courtesy of Judy Sullivan)

“My youngest started kindergarten and I realized I wanted to get back into the workforce, so I took a part time job,” Judy Sullivan recalls.

Nearly 15 years later, Judy is still active in the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce as its executive director.

Judy started part-time with the chamber as a kind of general support but quickly moved up. For close to the past 13 years, Judy has served as executive director, a role that has kept her very busy.

“We’re a small staff. There’s a lot of work that comes out of this office,” says Judy. “Be careful of those part-time jobs!” she adds with a big laugh during a recent conversation with the Harbor News.

Due to the volume of calls and questions to the chamber, Judy says her day-to-day role can deviate wildly.

“Every day is different. There’s a lot of moving parts to this world,” she says.

One day can include a meeting about planning for coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the next a Women in Business networking event, and the next simply meeting with someone new to town and telling them about the area.

“Because we act as an information center, we field different calls all day long,” explains Judy.

Right now, much of that work includes supporting businesses as people begin to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re working closely with the economic development to welcome people back town.”

One of the ways the chamber is encouraging people to get out and celebrate summer is through the new $aybucks program. The program consists of $50 egift cards that are available for purchase. The gift cards are good at about 50 different businesses in town. The gift cards are emailed to recipients and can be presented on smart phones or be printed out for use.

“That’s been a very neat program to launch,” says Judy.

Another event on the horizon is the annual crafts fair, which has been postponed from its usual date in July to October.

Judy says that as the pandemic hit the area in 2020, the chamber was “focused on information sharing” and getting word out to businesses about available grants or the latest guide lines from the state. The chamber also held a contest for 50 days where a $100 gift card to a different restaurant was given away each to help raise awareness for the industry that was particularly hard hit.

“It was all done via social media as a way to say ‘These restaurants are here, they’re great, and they’re open for takeout, so let’s support them,’” Judy says.

For Judy, the big question of what each day will bring is one of her favorite parts of working at the chamber, besides of course the chance to interact with so many different members of the public.

“I really like the people. We have some wonderful people here who are members and volunteers that I really like getting to be with,” says Judy.

Because the chamber is a volunteer organization, Judy says there is a lot of turnover as life changes and new business challenges can take people away from the chamber after they had volunteered there for a while. That turnover can then bring new people and new directions into the chamber on short notice.

“Things can change on dime. It’s challenging and terrific at the same time,” says Judy.

The other thing Judy likes about the chamber is simply the physical location at the crossroads of Route One and Main Street. The location in the heart of downtown is perfect for helping visitors and residents find things to do in town as they stop in to ask for help, according to Judy.

“We feel very fortunate to be here. Meeting new people is a wonderful thing and I love it when businesses collaborate with each other,” says Judy. “It takes a team and we have wonderful volunteers.”

Judy was born and raised in Old Saybrook and even graduated from the Old Saybrook High School. Though she recalls when she was younger, she couldn’t wait to get out of town and then spent many years living elsewhere, Judy moved back to Old Saybrook about 20 years ago.

“I think you really realize how special it is when you’re here,” says Judy.

In her spare time, Judy enjoys spending time with family, knitting, and golf. Judy is a board member of the Central Connecticut chapter of the LPGA Amateur Golf Association.

“Golf is something I’ve done off and on for a while, but I picked it up more seriously in the last five years. I like being outside, the courses are beautiful, and I like playing different courses,” says Judy.

As an Old Saybrook native who moved away and came back, Judy says her favorite part of Old Saybrook is the plethora of activity there is in a small town.

“It’s just a great place to live work and play. We have a lot to offer,” says Judy. “I’m very proud when people come in and say, ‘You have a lovely community.’ I feel very privileged to lead this chamber.”


Eric O’Connell covers news for Clinton for Zip06. Email Eric at e.oconnell@shorepublishing.com.

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