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Encouraging Local Tourism with Nina Kelly

Podcast published: June 28, 2024

We spend time with Nina Kelly, Director of Marketing with Chester County Tourism. We chat with Nina to discover some of the many great places to visit and wonderful things to do in Chester County. We learn about a number of hidden gems in our local area and explore some of the many exciting happenings coming to the region. This conversation is a great way to find fun activities this summer, both for tourists and for locals.


Chester County Tourism

Things to Do / Places to Visit

Places to Eat / for Foodies

Craft Distilleries

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Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene, and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.

Joe Casabona: The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce promotes trade, commerce, industry, and sustainable economic development while supporting a diverse and growing marketplace. The chamber is proud to partner with the Start Local podcast to raise the profile of businesses and nonprofits throughout Chester County. Learn more about the chamber at scccc.com. That’s scccc.com.

Erik Gudmundson: Welcome to Start Local. I am Erik Gudmundson, and I’m here in our podcast studio today with my cohost, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you doing today?

Liam Dempsey: I am hanging in there, Erik. It sounds like I have a little cold. It’s because I have a little cold.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, you’ve been world-traveling lately. So, I would say you’re doing all right if all you have to show for it is a cold. But, I think you have some good memories as well. So hopefully, hopefully, they’re worth it.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Absolutely. It was a fantastic trip. Thanks for asking.

Erik Gudmundson: Very good. All right. 

Well, I I’m excited to announce, not the world travel that Liam’s been on, but, wanted to announce a travel opportunity for all of our audience members. We’re gonna hold another in person networking event for the Start Local county. We’re in the very early days of our planning efforts, but we wanted to share this exciting news with you.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That is right. We are looking at an autumn date, maybe September. Don’t put that in your calendar yet, folks. But, as we progress the planning details for this upcoming in person event, wanna make sure that you know the details as soon as we share them.

Erik Gudmundson: And the best way to keep yourself informed about this upcoming event and other things that the podcast has going on is visit our website. Click on the subscribe now button on the blue ribbon at the top of the website, and the website is, of course, [startlocal.co].

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. We had more than a 150 local business and nonprofit leaders join us in March of this year. We sure hope that you’re gonna join us when we meet up next.

Erik Gudmundson: So with that, let’s meet today’s guest. We are in the podcast studio with Nina Kelly. Nina is the Director of marketing and communications at Chester County Tourism. Welcome, Nina.

Nina Kelly: Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Liam Dempsey: Oh, the pleasure is all ours, Nina. When we met a few weeks ago, you talked about so many really cool places and happenings going on nearby. I am really, really excited for today’s conversation. Thanks for joining us.

Nina Kelly: Thanks for having me.

Erik Gudmundson: Chester County, it can’t boast of snow capped mountains or ocean side beaches, so some residents of the county might not think of their home turf as being a travel destination. However, lovers of Longwood Gardens, helicopters, and Wyeth paintings might say otherwise. Many local residents may not even know we have an organization dedicated to tourism. To whom do you market?

Nina Kelly: That’s interesting that you say that because, we do market not only throughout the whole country domestically, but we also market internationally. 

So, we have representatives in many countries, India, the UK, France, Germany, and we have a global tourism director. So people are often very surprised at that because as you mentioned, they might not think of their own backyard. But, remember, Longwood Gardens in our backyard of Chester County is probably is 1 of the premier display gardens in the whole world. And some upcoming exciting things there that we’ll talk about later. But, so that resonates internationally. Longwood is also part of what we call America’s garden capital. So in Chester Philadelphia, there are over 35, public gardens within 30 miles. So, again, that speaks to an international audience, and really the crown jewel of that collection is Longwood Gardens.

Liam Dempsey: Your website calls your effort Chester County’s Brandywine Valley in the county of Philadelphia. Your web address is [brandywinevalley.com]. If memory serves, you were once known as the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau. Tell us about your organization’s name, how you’re funded, and how you operate. How do you market tourism for our local area?

Nina Kelly: So it’s so funny. Yeah. We sometimes say there’s an identity crisis. So, mentioning the countryside of Philadelphia, that’s actually our international brand and that is because we work with Philadelphia, but we also work with Montgomery County, Valley Forge Tourism Board, and together, we market the countryside of Philadelphia. But we also use it as a nomaker, in our domestic brand is Chester County’s Brandywine Valley. So when we add in the countryside of Philadelphia, that’s just a locator, it kind of really helps if you’re seeing our name and brand in Washington, DC. You’d say, okay, great. It’s right outside of Philly. So that really is the reason for that. Our name now is Chester County Tourism. It’s just to make it easier to so someone understands we’re an agency that brings tourism in, and that could be for business or pleasure. 

And so years ago, it was very big nomager in the in the industry for DMOs, Destination Marketing Organizations, to use conference and visitor bureau. People don’t really, 1: a bureau sounds very bureaucratic and we’re not bureaucratic, hence the move to Chester County Tourism,  not to confuse you gentlemen and other people, but the brand is really what resonates, and Chester County’s Brandywine Valley is sort of this promise that we’re this bucolic region, the reason the DuPont settled here, the reason the Wyeth’s painted here, this whole beautiful idea of what we promise a visitor is really part of that brand. We are funded by accommodations tax.

So ergo, we are really mandated to bring, heads in beds as we say, and that actually feeds into remarketing and filling these hotels again. So we’re funded that way, Oh, and, we are designated by the county, Chester County, but we are not necessarily a county agency, to not be confusing.

Erik Gudmundson: Oh, that definitely makes sense. And thank you for the detailed answer because that helps us keep you and your organization, Chester County Tourism, in perspective. Tell us about your office. Where is it physically located here in the county?

Nina Kelly: So we are on the grounds right outside the gates of the said fantastic Longwood Gardens. They own the building. It is the Longwood Progressive Meeting. So, there are tours that leave for the Underground Railroad, Kennett’s Underground Railroad from that building. It’s got a very rich history in, Quaker, in abolitionism. It’s just an amazing Frederick Douglass spoke there, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth. It is a fantastic building. We’re blessed to be in it. It’s our visitor center as well as our offices currently. The really interesting phenomenon over the last 20 some years and I’ve been around that long unfortunately or fortunately. 

Erik Gudmundson: So I’ll say fortunately. 

Nina Kelly: Fortunately. So the iteration of that building was, you know, no Internet, you know, really, you know, phone, not even fax at the time. So the whole building was full of maps, brochures, our wonderful guest services people, and they still are wonderful and with us, greeted guests. So through the years as not many people push brochures, there’s Internet, there’s your phone, you’re walking around with, we had the space there to make our offices, and then the visitor center is a little bit smaller footprint, just as important, but a smaller footprint in the front with some brochures, definitely person to person, wonderful connections, a fantastic kind of kiosk board with information and videos and interactive elements. So it’s just a wonderful place.

Liam Dempsey: I had no idea about the history of your offices. I have to admit, as Erik noted, I was traveling. So when I saw this question in the draft, why are we asking about their office location? But I trust Erik and, with good calls. What a great facility you’re in. Now, I definitely gotta get down there. I definitely gotta get down there.

Nina Kelly: Do that.

Liam Dempsey: Let me get on to the next question. And it’s really about what’s coming up in in the years ahead of us. 2026 is gonna be here before we know it. Perhaps most excitingly, most interestingly to me, a big soccer fan is that the World Cup is coming to the area. But baseball fans will be pleased that the Major League All Star Game is coming. There’s America 2 fifty’s birthday, and that’s, I’m gonna have to leave what you call that to Erik. As I said, I’m fighting a cold today. So maybe, Erik, I’ll ask you to take over and talk about our new word for the day.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, I don’t know. I, we definitely need some help with Nina on the pronunciation and practice of the pronunciation. But as as I understand it, it’s the semiquincentennial. Is that correct?

Nina Kelly: Semisesquicentennial. 

Erik Gudmundson: Semisesquicentennial.

Nina Kelly: Semisesquincentennial. So, America 250, Chester 250, you know, so PA 250. So, Liam, you’re so right. And this so we can’t fast forward just to 26, but we actually have to be ready, and ready, you know, getting ready we are. 

And there’s so much more to, like you said, all of it. It’s not just soccer. It’s not just baseball. It’s not just history. We always are so pleased when the world’s eyes are on us.

So, in the years I’ve been here, the DNC, the Democratic National Convention, Republican National Convention, the Pope’s visit, we’ve had these times when well more than just a regular citywide sellout, Philadelphia itself will just take this the whole East Coast. My boys went to the Chester this year. They stayed almost an hour and a half out of Augusta, but that’s what they could get. 

So that’s we’re really going to impact, you know, overnights all over, for some of these things. So let me start with we’re preparing our accommodations community because they’re going to have to manage inventory. You know, there are going to be organizations that now want a book for 26 and they have to make sure they’re just managing their inventory and their revenues properly. 

We have to talk about the convergence of things. So, Welcome America will be happening in Philadelphia. Again, America 250 and 26 along with FIFA, Philadelphia, you know, really has some great games. We don’t necessarily know which teams that’s gonna impact. I mentioned earlier, we do have great relationships internationally. So we’re gonna be talking to those folks and they’re already saying, you know, if France is in, our French reps are going crazy. If, you know, Ireland’s in our UK, you know, group is really, on board. 

So there’s a lot of moving parts to this, not the least of which the history component. So we’re a really rich and beautiful area for history. And when we talk history, I think it’s super important that we don’t only limit to American revolutionary war history or whatever. That’s actually what happened at the inception of the county, but the subsequent 250 years as we lead up to had a lot of richness within it. And 1 great example is when I mentioned America’s Garden Capital. 

The history of the Dupont family in our area is very, very important. It’s one of the reasons we’re such a great tourism destination is the philanthropy of this family who immigrated from France, you know, so there’s this wonderful story and we started the preparations for that. We’ve just printed a wonderful brochure about the legacy of that family here. We’ve married that with a website presence.

We’re right now, this next week, taking lots of more videos. And so we have assets for social media and for website. So there’s this whole buildup of what history is and means, and then we’re going to use that for 250 and beyond.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, I mean, some folks understand why the or I should say, some folks may not understand why the American helicopter museum is located here in Chester County. Here’s a hint. If you want some backstory, check out episode 48, where Bob Beggs, who is one of that museum’s founders, gives his answer. What are some other hidden gems that we have here in our backyard that may not be part of that America 250 celebration, or maybe they will be. Who knows?

Nina Kelly: Yeah. Definitely. So, there’s some really amazing, like from higher level, and we still call them hidden gems to little tiny. So, to give you an example,  Wharton Esherik Museum is astounding. Wharton Esherik was the dean of American Craftsman, a woodworker. He has worked in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the Met. He has private collections. His studio in Malvern is literally a work of art.

And I don’t know if either of you been there, but we tell people over and over how magnificent and they say, Yeah, yeah, yeah. And when they visit, they local literally are like, Oh my God. But it technically is this hidden gem because Wharton isn’t necessarily, like, top of mind on a lot of people unless you’re a woodworker or artist or whatever maybe. So it’s technically this hidden gem. 

Down to only open on Saturdays is a museum, called the Antique Ice Tool Museum. And it’s an amazing bank barn that is converted and stunning. It has great interpretation. Its assets inside are amazing. And it’s like you if you don’t understand the history and they bring it to life of how important ice was to the whole go west young man founding. You couldn’t go if you couldn’t bring food, and you couldn’t bring food unless you had ice. So, you know, this whole history is so amazing.

And again, it’s just this tiny little asset. You mentioned the helicopter museum. It’s just the one of the only museums dedicated to rotorcraft, just this week. It won’t be this weekend, maybe when the Sayers, but they have a great family festival, where there’s helicopter rides, they have a national helicopter day in August, they have other great events, haunted helicopters. So there’s, it’s again just this really interesting little museum that’s a hidden gem. 

We might have this fantastic art museum with Andrew Wyeth’s paintings at Brandywine Museum of Art, but there’s also the studio tours where Andy painted, where his father painted, where he grew up. So they’re kind of little hidden gems within these big assets. 

At Longwood Gardens, we say that the Grotto, if you’ve never been in it, you know, it’s this little oasis of quiet, beauty within tucked in and Longwood people might not know about. So within this huge asset, horticultural asset are these hidden gems. You know, Jenkins Arboretum and Gardens, a hidden gem. You know, Chester County History Center, which I can talk about later, a hidden gem. Some of the arts organizations. 

So, we actually have whole blogs and stories. St. Peter’s Village, if you’ve never been, is this little quarter mile of a literally an industrial village that’s set back in time. It’s like, you know, kind of be in the wild west or something. So, you know, there’s just too many to mention and really close to our hearts, these little hidden gems.

Erik Gudmundson: It’s amazing to me that a lot of us may or may not know about all of them, but we thought we’d know about all of them in the sense that there, we all know several of them, but we probably none of us know all of them. And so, Liam, I hope you’re taking really good notes there for the inevitably long show notes section with that lists, websites and resources for each of these hidden gems.

Nina Kelly: And they’d be great guests. Like, a lot of these people are so passionate about what they do and, to say to stay local. I feel like one of the things that came out of COVID is that we have this garnered appreciation for something that you may have all your life said, I’ve always wanted to go here, and it’s local and you haven’t gone or I haven’t gone in a long time. 

People’s Light is just an amazing theater. All the theaters in Chester County are uptown in West in Westchester, but I’ve brought some family recently to People’s Light and they said, I forget it’s here. I’m like, stop forgetting. These organizations need you to be supporters. So, you know, get out there and visit them all.

Liam Dempsey: Indeed. Indeed. And folks, we will be sure to grab all the websites for those wonderful organizations and places and destinations that Nina shared, and we will include them in the show notes as Erik suggested over on our website at [startocal.co]. 

Nina, let’s go back to Longwood Gardens, and I suppose I mean that somewhat literally here. Later this year on November 22nd, Longwood Reimagined is scheduled to open. And Longwood Reimagined includes the new conservatory remodeling, but there’s so, so much more. Can you maybe in just a few moments, because I feel like we could have a whole show on what’s happening down at Longwood. But maybe just in a few moments, can you show what we can expect from this? What we expect will be a really fantastically glorious expansion.

Nina Kelly: It’s amazing. And expansion is the right word, Liam. I wanna hesitate. There is no renovation. So the conservatories that is there, the East Conservatory is perfect. It remains, this is an additional expansion. It is a second conservatory as part of this whole expansion, and there are many other elements.

So Longwood Reimagined, a New Garden Experience is the name brand, and we’re so ridiculously excited about it. We’ve waited the 2 plus long years, and, so I think it’ll be the next, the next 6 months are gonna be the longest of my life waiting this to open. But we’re really getting there.

And some things have opened. So last year actually, the Orchid Room reopened, and just this year recently The Overlook opened to overlook where the fountains are. 

So to step back, Longwood reimagined, a new garden experience is literally the reimagining of what a garden should be in the 21st century. It is taking Longwood’s mission of being and Mr. DuPont’s mission and, Paul Redmond, the president at Longwood, like their vision, their idea that this is the world’s premier horticultural experience, a display garden, It is, this West Conservatory is the pinnacle of it. It is a crystal palace the size of a football field. It will seemingly float on water with Mediterranean gardens inspired inside and canals and experiences that are just, it’s hard to imagine what reimagine will be like. So this expansion includes that they have physically moved the cascade garden to its own little jewel box. There will be a new bonsai display which bonsai are very, very popular. The water lily gardens reimagined, which connects the east and west conservatories.

So again, two beautiful conservatories, and just vistas and new plants and so much that it’s just an exciting time. And it will open at one of Longwood’s most exciting times is holidays. So, November 22nd really will be an amazing day. 

Liam Dempsey: I got to show that and i’m really really excited for that. And, I had lived here more years than I care to admit before I made it down to Longwood’s winter show. And kind of, you know, local, it’s flowers, it’s lights. How amazing can it be? Right? And then I get down there. I said, oh, well, this is embarrassing mostly for me. This is just next level, but just yeah. Just amazing. So I’m so, so excited for this. So, so excited for it.

Nina Kelly: It’s gonna be a, it’s gonna be great.

Erik Gudmundson: Oh, in addition to all the tourist sites and attractions, and we’ve mentioned as you said, Nina, just a few of them, even though we mentioned quite a few. There are certainly area hotels and people are staying in the area hotels. So I’m curious, in addition to all the sites, attractions, and hotels, do you also promote restaurants and dining to visitors from outside our region?

Nina Kelly: Super important. Everybody has to eat. They, you know, they technically, we say though, they could stay with a friend or they could come for the day or they could whatever, but almost everyone who comes here eats. So, culinary tourism is super important and, you know, we’ll talk about mushrooms and being the mushroom area. So there’s gonna be fantastic restaurants that have specialties for that. 

We all have almost every ethnicity of food. We have budget items from, you know, obviously super high end to, you know, we don’t necessarily promote fast food, fast food, but, you know, diners or cafes or, local mom and pops that are just, you know, the array of food is fantastic. 

And we have an ice cream trail. We just, a lot, you know, we’ve had it for quite a bit, but we have a new special, you know, giving people a little coupon book in there or coupon in their welcome bags for our Longwood packages that gives them a free ice cream up to $7. And I’m like, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Like, that’s kind of fun. And a sneak peek of it.

Liam Dempsey: My diet plans don’t make you care about that.

Nina Kelly: I just recently had a travel writer and the one of her themes was the ice cream trail and we literally, for 2 days ate ice cream 3 times a day. And let me say, I’m a champ at that. I’m really good at it. 

So, you know, to be honest, like there’s just so much in the culinary experience here. Cheeses are really amazing. So a lot of our farmers markets, you want to get the most fresh local everything, seasonal obviously. A lot of people don’t know that mushrooms are indoor agriculture local that it, there is not a season. It’s not just summer or whatever that we control that environment and the growth. So I feel like the dining aspect is super important. 

And, again, one of those things that during COVID, I think at the first few weeks when we were reading studies all the time, there was a chance that, just that Pennsylvania could have lost 35 to 40% of the restaurants. So, restaurants really, you know, when you think of losing things, you think how important they are to you. And again, in tourism, our restaurant community is of great importance.

Erik Gudmundson: And yeah, it’s, everything that goes into those ingredients as well at their local restaurants. I know we talked with Sue Miller.

Nina Kelly: [Inaudible 24:21.01].

Erik Gudmundson: Yeah. About everything she’s doing at Bertrand Hills Farm back in episode 40. And, yeah, this is definitely a culinary destination. No doubt about it. 

Liam Dempsey: And then driving recently, I saw that the White Dog Cafe in Chester County is, if not open yet, is very, very close to being open.

Erik Gudmundson: I think it is officially open, by the way.

Liam Dempsey: Has it opened? 

Nina Kelly: I know we have a team visit there, coming up. So whether that’s a soft opening or such, but yes, one of the largest, you know, the old Vickers has this history there, and it’s great that this beautiful building is taken over by the Fearless Group which is really well known for quality and hospitality, and so we’re super excited. They do a great job. A lot of brand recognition, and so, and they have gonna have a lot of space, which is super important to our team, and that when we talk about bringing guests, you know, a lot of it I’m speaking to you of leisure guests, but we have a strong sports sales team, a strong corporate sales team. 

So, you know, Courtney is our great Director of Sales and she sells a lot of group business. So that asset up there is gonna be amazing at that White Dog. So, yeah, thanks for bringing that up. That’s an amazing spot, and we’re super excited.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I am too. Nina, you have talked a lot about the work that you and your colleagues are doing to promote the area and to let both folks from very far away and maybe closer to home know about all the wonderful things that are available and all the destinations, worth a visit. And you’re doing a lot of great work to help the community, help those venues, and help the local economy. How can those who live locally support your work? How can we give back? How can we contribute?

Nina Kelly: Oh, well, that’s a great question. So, I mentioned Courtney and our Director of Sales, and she actually has this kind of program that you almost, like, bring home to Chester County Business. So Liam, pretend, you know, you’re a dentist and you belong to the American Dental Association, and every year they have a retreat. Well, pitch Chester County is that retreat, you know? Liam, you are an equestrian gentleman, so if you had an organization that, you know, you could show off some of the equestrian activities in Chester County, like reach out to Courtney and just say like, you know, might not go anywhere, but this organization often has, you know, whatever. 

So those types of things we, you know, almost an ambassador, and the same way with, engaging with, visiting friends and relatives, you know, that’s actually a whole program. We have great friends that visit Philly in the city and we work with them a lot on tourism and, you know, they have a whole, you know, program on visiting friends and relatives because think of it, you know, not all of us can host all the family that’s coming. You know, my son got married. We had 30 rooms in Mendenhall. Like, you know, you just need these ideas of people like, how do we keep it local? How do we offer these incentives for people to keep business local. 

So from I mentioned during COVID, like once people started either getting out or ordering, you know, takeout, I mean, my oldest did a great job and he and his wife made a concerted effort to eat and get takeout from all the places they would have done if there was not to keep them there for when that opened again. 

So that ambassador program and that idea that you’re, you use your social media for so many things, use it to promote what we’re doing, like so, I think I shared with you all like a good day PA segment we did, and we have a Pittsburgh one and, you know, we’ve got an FYI Philly coming up in June and what, Philly live segment. So as you see these things on social media, be proud of your area. You know, I always say it’s not me or us or my organization, it’s who’s behind us. It’s who we’re representing, who’s really in front of us who becomes the deliverable for the guests. These restaurants, these shops, these beautiful attractions, these events. So, anyway people can amplify that message to us is super super important.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, you mentioned a few of your colleagues in your answer there. And so, I’m wondering, are you hiring? Is there, are you trying to add to your professional staff of expertise there?

Nina Kelly: I think, what do we say? We’re small but mighty. So, we are a small group, and we’ve, most of us been there, some of the newbies’ county a few years, but, myself and Greg Edevane, our Global Director, of local director development director is, we’ve both been 20 plus years. So, we’re not.

Erik Gudmundson: How many people are in your organization altogether?

Nina Kelly: There’s 9 Full time.

Erik Gudmundson: Okay.

Nina Kelly: And then we have some part-timers. We have an amazing marketing agency, Crane Communications. So that’s another whole arm of people helping us. So the short answer is not, currently. We love interns and we actually have a great intern, Aidan, from Newman. So we are small but mighty, hopefully growing. We’re busting at the seams at Longwood’s progressive meeting in our visitor center.

Liam Dempsey: So this is gonna be a tough question, I think, for you, Nina, but we always ask our guests to highlight a local business or nonprofit organization that could use more attention. You shared a bunch already, but perhaps there’s another 1 or 2 that could use more attention from either locals or from visiting tourists.

Nina Kelly: I will say, there’s both. So there are little organizations, and I’m gonna mention history to be 1 because we talked about the semisesquicentennial, and how important history is gonna be. So there might be these little organizations that have only a volunteer community to support them that are only open minimally. They just desperately need visitors. They need funding. They need donations. They need help that way. You know, that could be the type of thing that they have. They host an event and it’s pay as you wish. So, you know, just things like that for small history, groups, and they’re all the way through the county. They’re really a plethora of them.

So, one I would call out would be Chester County History Center, and I think I mentioned them earlier. So they are somewhat the conduit of all the history in Chester County. They do a fantastic job. They’ll be on our FYI Philly segment of bringing history outdoors for their walking tours. They have amazing staff there headed by County Hep who’s on our board and just a great hospitality asset in the community. 

But the History Chester, because it’s beautiful and big and has all these wonderful displays, people might think they’re kind of, you know, fat and happy and whatever, but it really is hard. I mean, we all know how expensive everything is. And while they’re good at trying to get grants and trying to spread the dollars, I would say that’s an organization that, and I mentioned before the pay as you will. So I’ve done some online seminars with them that are free, but you just donate. And I feel like that’s such a great thing to do. They do have membership, so it’s something that you could join as yourself or family. And I think that’s an important thing to note on a lot of organizations in Chester County. 

So to look for those places that might speak to you, you might visit it and really love it and say, you know what, whether it’s a few bucks in the tip jar thing that they’re there, you know, the mill in Selma. Again, these, they’re beautiful historic assets, and they really do need our help as for us to promote them for people to support them locally, to keep them top of mind. So, I really think there are some of those ones that would feel very comfortable saying that they could use our help and that there are many more that could, and to support the arts, support our local community as best you can.

Erik Gudmundson: I had the pleasure of going on a tour of the Chester County History Center, with county last year. And it was, I was utterly blown away at just how much history that I had no idea, right? Happened here at right in Chester County. So, it was very interesting. I would definitely recommend it to everyone too.

Nina Kelly: I just told County, I wish I knew what he’s forgotten. He is such and Jen Green that works there is so great. There, she does the interpretation along with, I think Anne there. They do this really there. We’re in the garb for us with visit Philly on almost as hot as today like 80 degrees and then we tried to only do it a little bit and get them inside. But, you know, it’s an amazing organization. The history here is, and it marries into American history so well, our local history. There’s so many cool ties to Westchester and to, you know, there’s just all these little kind of fun facts and interesting things that, again, that history center brings to life.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, I wanna talk about something else because no conversation about tourism in Chester County would be complete without at least one question about mushrooms.

And I can tell you personally, I used to have an office in downtown Kennett, and we’d regularly have out of town, folks just stop into our storefront and say, hey, dude, we can’t seem to find the mushroom fields. Do you know where the mushroom fields are? And so we, very, you know, politely had to explain to them, no mushrooms in fact do not grow out in fields and we had a lot of mushroom growing clients. So we’d tell them a little bit about it and, you know, give them some leads on where they could go see a tour and, you know, talk about the mushroom festival. But then since then, you know, the Midnight in the Square has this mushroom drop. But I wanted to ask you for your perspective, what else can agritourists and foodie tourists or culinary tourists, you know, find in Chester County as it relates to mushrooms?

Nina Kelly: Yeah. So, obviously, Kenneth just kind of being the epicenter, within, I guess, the 20 miles or so of the town of Barrow, all these mushrooms are grown. So while there are some outside and you forage for them and you better know what you’re doing, the actual reason where the mushroom capital is that, you know, there are these growers here producing so many, Phillips, being one, and then they have the Great Woodlands. It’s another actual pretty much hidden gem that this beautiful little building has a visitor’s area where you can learn how to make learn how mushrooms are grown. There’s some interpretation, there’s videos, there’s often mushrooms in the local sample area in different iterations. So, you kinda get that sense that, you know, a cremini is going to grow later into portobello, but here they are in both ways that you see them grown.  So, it’s super interesting, the mushroom industry and how it’s here. 

And that, you know, it marries into go to also downtown Kennett and go to the mushroom cap, you know, and Kathy Lafferty’s place is amazing, and she’s one of the wonderful people who really brought the industry, and the tourism aspect of it with the festival every year in September, the weekend after Labor Day and midnight on the Square, which she’s really still driving force of.

So if people don’t know, the midnight on the square is New Year’s Eve in Kennett Square, and I think I get these numbers sometimes wrong, but a £700 8-foot business steel-lit LED mushroom is dropped from a crane at midnight. And they do a real fun thing. I think it’s 6 PM when they bring it up for the kids. So, if you’re not gonna stay awake, like the bringing it up is another really exciting thing early at 6, and then later, 6 hours later, the adults with some adult beverages probably are up listening to the music and doing that whole thing. 

So, Portobello’s in Kennett and all the other fantastic Chester. So, Portobello’s obviously has that nod, the name, but it’s a fantastic restaurant and Brett and Sandra welcome the community in so beautifully. They’re big supporters of our organization. I can’t say enough. International folks, domestics, love going there. They’re welcomed. They hear the story and all the great restaurants in the whole county. Let alone our towns and main streets, which of Kennett Square is one in Westchester, Chester Phoenix Ville and Malvern, and Downingtown. We just have this network of these wonderful places. 

And the great thing is if you go to Downingtown and you eat in a restaurant, you look at the menu and often it says fresh Kenneth Square Mushrooms, and we’re all like, yay, tie it together that you’re 20 minutes away from the mushroom capital of the world. 

So, I feel like, that aspect as well as I think so many of our restaurants are good at incorporating the fresh local mushrooms along with the cheeses we talked about. Sue mMiller, the whole cheese county. Dough Run is amazing. There’s just a lot to say that the freshness of the ingredients, and I know a lot of areas wanna do this, but we’re blessed that this open space, our farms, our produce, our mushrooms, our cheese, our ice cream, you know, all those just at Milky Way Farm this week, again, with the travel writer I mentioned, eating ice cream, by the way. And…

Liam Dempsey: now, you’re just showing off.

Nina Kelly: Yeah. What a great place though, like go and they have, you know, it’s a working farm and but this beautiful place to go get ice cream, there was kids coming and going. They have camps. I mean, again, agritourism screams out loud there, and we have so much like that throughout the county. We’re blessed.

Liam Dempsey: We absolutely do. And one of the other things that we have a lot of in the county and as someone who likes being outdoors and likes good wine and craft beer and well-made cocktails, was absolutely delighted with the relatively recent launch of Chester County Cheers. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what that might mean, and how folks can learn more about it?

Nina Kelly: Yeah. So, interestingly, for, again, the 20 years I’ve been here, wine was kind of the beverage that was resonating with it. We had a Brandywine Valley wine trail, which there still is, but as wineries kind of, you know, stayed a little on a plateau, craft brewery exploded over the last decade plus. So, we had a wine brochure back in the day and then we added the craft brew brochure when the craft brews came. And now, a few distilleries are opening. So, it, you know, kind of dawned on us. We take sometimes, it takes a few minutes for me. I’m old, but it came to us that we really had this beverage tourism asset that should be in one place because you might want to try both wine and beer. It’s not an, and or, it’s really one or the other. It’s, you know, we really want to push these craft cocktails, you know, homemade distilleries or like Botannery up in Glenmore. They’re just amazing and they have some craft cocktails already pre-in the bottle. Oh my god, like you’re just opening and pouring and you’ve got the most delightful mix.

So there’s a Bluebird Distillery, like, we’re just really, really lucky with all these. So, cheers became its natural iteration, so we moved into that. Then we started with a kind of a gamify thing where it’s not an app, but you go in your phone and you check in when you’re in a brewery and then you get these points and you can get a t-shirt or hat or whatever, and that’s become very, very popular. So doing that with ice cream, we’ll be doing that with some other things. So, it’s really a great way to move people around.

And again, sort of sell the same theme and have people understand that there’s so much of this one area. And a lot like you said, Liam, everybody has to eat here with the dining and all. They might have to drink, but they kinda, like, wanna drink. So, we, you know, say it’s a Chester County Cheers. There Kenneth does a great job with three events: Brewfest, Winterfest, and Summerfest, which just happened last week or a few weeks ago. I’m not sure when we’re airing, but, so it’s all some really good stuff and a lot of the breweries have their own events and there are pop-up pours we call in the summer. 

So, at Highland Orchards, you can get Levante brews and, Chester Reserve has some and historic Sugar Town, which is a great way to experience history, but you can also have some wonderful Locust Lane beer. So there’s really some nice synergy with those assets too.

So, I think you could find everything you’d need to at our website, and you’ll put on your website for places to go raise a glass.

Liam Dempsey: Absolutely. We will. Absolutely. Nina Kelly, Marketing and Communications Director with Chester County Tourism, I am very grateful for your time and your expertise today. Where can folks connect with you and learn more about all the great places and things to do in Chester County?

Nina Kelly: We always encourage visits to our website atv [brandywinevalley.com] to connect on social media and also to sign up for our newsletter. All of that’s available on our website and it’s always available and we’re open all the time on [brandywinevalley.com] as well. 

But do, as we mentioned to you too, stop in our visitor center too, which is at 300 Greenwood Drive in, Greenwood Road. I’m sorry in Kennett Square. So we’re always happy, open every day, 10-4 PM. So, we’re always happy to see guests there as well.

Erik Gudmundson: Nina, thank you so much for coming on the Start Local podcast with us today. Really enjoyed our time with you. Thank you.

Nina Kelly: Thank you. I appreciate it, gentlemen.

Liam Dempsey: And thanks to you for listening. We value your time, and we’re very grateful that you’ve made the time to spend it with us. 

As a reminder, show notes and links to everything we talked about, all these great venues, all these great places to go and see will be online on our website over at [startlocalco].

As a reminder, we publish a new episode every fortnight, and you can catch our show wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. 

And as Erik shared at the start of our show, take a minute to subscribe for email updates over at our website, and you’ll be the first to know about when we have details to share about our upcoming in-person event. 

Thanks for joining us, until the next time. Goodbye.

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