Matt Mandell: Chamber’s New Chief — And Cheerleader

When Matthew Mandell told his wife he’d been offered the position of executive director and president of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, her reaction was quick:

“Well, now you’ll get paid for doing what you’ve been doing all along.”

She’s right. Mandell — who began his new job last week — has served Westport in many capacities for years.

Matthew Mandell

Matthew Mandell

He’s a 5-term RTM member, chairing its Planning and Zoning Committee and serving on 5 others. He helped save the 22-acre Partrick Wetlands, along with 11 acres adjacent to Hiawatha Lane and 6 acres at the White Barn Theatre.

He championed the movement of the Kemper-Gunn House from Elm Street to the Baldwin parking lot; preservation of the building next to Terrain, and is working now to save the Geiger’s barn. He’s an Earthplace trustee, too.

Mandell also helped found Slice of Saugatuck. In fact, his work on that food-and-fun festival was a major reason the Chamber sought him out when they needed a new leader — for the 3rd time in 2 years.

After its 1st 2 wildly successful runs — organized entirely by volunteers — the Chamber offered to take over the event. But they dropped the ball last fall. So Chamber officials asked to meet with Mandell.

He thought they were talking about how to make the next Slice work. They were interviewing him for a job.

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds, thanks in large part to Matthew Mandell's hard work. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds, thanks in large part to Matthew Mandell’s hard work. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The Chamber wanted Mandell because of his great track record promoting businesses and jobs in Westport. It’s a town he’s known since 1972, lived in part-time since 1987, and moved to permanently in 2005.

Mandell first came here as a summer resident, with his mother. He attended Indian Walk Day Camp — and, through a former fellow camper, met a woman 14 years later who eventually became his wife.

The Mandells weekended here for over a decade, before buying a home on Ferry Lane East. That’s a short walk over the little-known railroad pedestrian bridge from Saugatuck, which Mandell quickly discovered has great history and neighborhood charm.

As Saugatuck boomed, Mandell became one of its biggest boosters. That brought him to the Chamber’s attention, and led eventually to his new post.

The director is blunt about the Chamber’s past few years. It’s been in Westport since 1931, but recently slid toward irrelevancy.

Chamber of Commerce“We have to be more about community and interaction,” Mandell says. “Businesses will thrive because of that.

“We need to use the same model that worked for Slice of Saugatuck. If we bring people in, and they walk around and see what we’ve got, there will be a real sense of community.

“I don’t know what’s in half of the Post Road malls. But I know there are hidden gems there. We have to find them, and show them off.”

Mandell — who earned an MFA in film from New York University — will use video and social media much more than the Chamber did before.

“I’m not a businessman. I have no firm marketing background,” the new director admits. “But I do know how to advocate, and get people out.”

He was also the New York state champion debater in high school. “My wife says I can talk to anybody,” Mandell notes.

He embraces the challenges ahead. “People think the Chamber of Commerce is stodgy,” he says. “We have to give them people information so they think of us as more modern, as an important part of the community.”

His goal in his new role is to make Westport “even better than it is. The Chamber needs to be a cheerleader for the town — not just its businesses, but its residents too. If we achieve that, we’ll all thrive as a result.”



16 responses to “Matt Mandell: Chamber’s New Chief — And Cheerleader

  1. Matthew,
    First of all I want to thank you for starting and running the Taste of Saugatuck. Having just moved into Westport in that very section of town, it was our first experience with a community event. It did everything you set out for it to do for Saugatuck. I look forward to another one. Secondly, almost every year I write to the Chamber suggesting that you consider using our school identification cards to entice students to spend their money in Westport rather than at surrounding malls. My idea was to let students know that by showing their school ID they will receive a small discount (percent to be determined by your organization).

  2. John Hartwell

    Terrific choice. Congratulations Matthew!

  3. Matt is the perfect choice for the job! Wishing you great success and a very long gig at the Chamber. Westport is already a better place to live thanks to you and all your hard work over the past 20 years. Congratulations, Matthew! You’re the best!

  4. Westport’s own force of nature. Congratulations buddy!

  5. Best of all?
    Matt”a one of the GOOD GUYS 🙂

  6. Isabelle Isafan

    This is exciting news! I don’t know Mr. Mandell personally but loved the Slice of Saugatuck event. I also enjoy Restaurant Week in Westport, but feel that is never well advertised and I have to go on a ‘hunt’ to find out which restaurants are participating. I lived on Dr. Gillette Circle when I first came to town, Saugatuck is a great area for pedestrian events. Perhaps the Ferrari gathering at Rizzuto’s could be expanded. The possibilities are endless.

  7. Michael Calise

    Congratulations to the Chamber for an excellent choice Matt’s spirit and drive will invigorate the Chamber to the benefit of all business’s

  8. Seems like a great choice! Congratulations

  9. The Chamber could not have found a better person for the job. Watch the Chamber move into high gear!

  10. Seconding Michael Calise’s comments: Congrats to the Chamber for selecting Matthew and bringing him on board. Excellent all around

  11. Catherine Calise

    Congratulations Matt! The Chamber of Commerce will have a stellar leader!

  12. Congratulations… An Excellent choice for the town

  13. I want to thank everyone for their kind words and encouragement.

    It’s all about Westport folks, and Weston. Your support in helping me make our community better is imperative. Joining the Chamber, coming out to events, becoming new clients and consumers is up to you. Your participation is what this is all about. Together we can do new and greater things.

    Thanks again. See you out there……


    You can always call me at my new office number 203-227-9234. If you have ideas, let me hear’m, you know I will always listen.

  14. Great choice! Congrats Matt!

  15. Tracy Flood

    Congratulations to Matt. It’s a great town, with many wonderful and generous business members. You have big shoes to fill – Lisa Parelli Gray did a great job of bringing people together, and helping everyone benefit from the shared connections. We will miss her, but know that you will keep the momentum going.

  16. Best of luck, Matt, and I hope you continue the many positive and progressive programs Lisa Parelli Gray put into place that provided excellent venues for networking and chamber/business partnerships that were excellent for Westport and Chamber members.