Town pride is like a living organism, one that can expand, contract, or switch to a new host when the time is right. And sometimes a city can evolve past the industries that put it on the map in the first place. Such is the case with Burlington, Wisconsin, population 10,847, whose slogan “Chocolate City U.S.A.” no longer seems like the best fit. The Racine Journal Times reports that the city is considering a slogan change, one that might have nothing to do with food at all.
The slogan has been part of the community’s identity since 1987, thanks to the Nestle plant in Burlington that employs about 400 people to produce chocolate chips and other chocolatey products. As such, the city became a regional tourist destination for those who wanted to tour the Nestle plant and discover other fun chocolate-related attractions, such as the Burlington Chocolate Experience Museum and ChocolateFest, an annual event that, according to its website, features “candy wrapper fashion show, chocolate carving contests, vendor demonstrations, samples, great food, rides, and tons of chocolate!”
However, the Nestle plant is now closed to tours, and according to Burlington mayor Jeannie Hefty—who actually visited Nestle’s world headquarters in Switzerland—Nestle is de-emphasizing chocolate as a tentpole of its operations worldwide. Between that and the fact that ChocolateFest is only one weekend out of the whole year, Hefty said this has led to an awkward lack of chocolate-related offerings for tourists arriving in Chocolate City U.S.A.: “They’d come into Burlington and they’d go, ‘Where’s the chocolate?’ It was getting to be more of an embarrassment.”
Thanks to a state tourism grant, Burlington has $40,000 to pay a marketing firm to help come up with a new identity and slogan for the town. One idea is City of Trails, a reference to the many hiking and bike trails in the area.
As much as it makes sense to adapt to the times (and give tourists new reasons to discover the city), I have to admit that this news makes me a little sad. Growing up, I went to summer camp in Burlington, and part of the delight of canoeing on the lake each day was waiting for the breeze to move across the water and deliver a potent, all-encompassing chocolate smell to our boats. It was half the reason to sign up for water sports. Given the strength of the chocolate fumes, I always thought the Nestle plant sat just on the opposite shore, but looking at a map now, I see that, amazingly, it was a full two miles away—the scent was just that powerful. For me, it’ll always be Chocolate City U.S.A., no matter how many beautiful bike trails it boasts.