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Palmer Chamber reverses decision to rebrand Colony Days

Just three days after announcing a rebrand of the historic Colony Days and Colony Christmas events in Palmer, the Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce announced i
Published: Mar. 27, 2022 at 10:24 AM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Just three days after announcing a rebrand of the historic Colony Days and Colony Christmas events in Palmer, the Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce announced in a press release on Sunday morning that they were reversing their decision, and the events would continue to operate as Colony Days and Colony Christmas.

“We will not move forward with the planned rebrand of the annual Colony Days event,” Executive Director Ailis Vann said. “Although it was hard to hear we handled this situation poorly and unintentionally hurt and damaged longtime relationships with our community, we heard it.”

The chamber initially announced that Colony Days would be rebranded to the Braided River Festival in a press release on Thursday. The Christmastime weekend schedule of events put on by the chamber — Colony Christmas — was also temporarily rebranded as Hometown Holidays. Public backlash ensued almost instantly. Residents in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and businesses began voicing strong opposition on social media to the name change of the event that has taken place since 1936.

The original iteration of the Colony Days celebration was put on by original Matanuska agricultural colonists, who traveled to what would become Palmer as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Though many did not survive or stay throughout the harsh first winter, those who did opted to celebrate. The Colony Days celebration has taken place under multiple names since 1936 and only missed a year in 2020 when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vann said in an interview that the chamber’s board of directors opted to hold a special meeting on Saturday to address the community’s reaction to the rebranding.

“That was a board decision to meet sooner rather than later,” Vann said. “The board felt it was necessary to meet prior to Monday to give the community some peace and so they called that special meeting last night. People love Colony Days and we love Colony Days, which is why we’ve been running it for the last four decades if not longer, it’s a beloved palmer community event.

After the original decision was announced in an email, the chamber made two subsequent Facebook posts on Friday and Saturday, each receiving over 500 comments, most of which were staunchly opposed to the rebranding. Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ailis Vann said in an interview on Friday that the chamber was overwhelmed with phone calls and emails after receiving over 200 in just 24 hours from residents. Vann wrote yesterday that the chamber board would meet on Monday to take into account what they had heard from the community.

“We’ve learned a lot from this process and look forward to moving on and planning a Colony Days celebration the entire community can be proud of,” Vann said in the Sunday press release. “To the hundreds of people who spoke up: we heard you and are sorry. We will do better. The pushback has reminded us of the important role in our community that we and our decisions play and we don’t take that lightly.”

Vann said that as many as 25 volunteers just from the chamber begin planning Colony Days months in advance and work long hours during the first weekend in June to successfully host the event each year. Vann said that the board received feedback in recent years that events for teen attendees are sparse, and intend to add more teen-focused activities this year.

“The chamber love the event,” Vann said. “We look forward to it every year and it is a ton of work but once it gets going, once the gates open if you will, like it’s amazing to see it all come together,” Vann said.

Vann said that the rebrand was decided on by the board of directors prior to hiring Blueprint Alaska to assist with public relations. The chamber had received a grant from the Mat-Su Health Foundation to pay for the rebrand, but the grant funding will be returned as a donation back to the Mat-Su Health Foundation.

“They’ve decided that then they will donate their services, so all the money will go back to the health foundation and no chamber dollars will be spent on this,” Vann said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.

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