Published August 07. 2013 3:00PM Updated August 08. 2013 4:03PM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, left, eats ice cream while Ed Morris, State Central Committeeman of District 20, center, and East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, right, place their orders during a stop at GumDrops & Lollipops during his tour of Niantic Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. Niantic was voted Connecticut's "Fan-Favorite Still Revolutionary Town of the Year" in a contest held by the Connecticut Office of Tourism.
East Lyme — Local business owners and residents gathered Wednesday at Niantic Town Green to celebrate Niantic's recent designation as the state's "Fan-Favorite Still Revolutionary Town of the Year."
Students donning brightly colored Niantic Center School T-shirts and others came to greet Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was visiting to tour local businesses and promote tourism.
The students had participated in a locally produced YouTube video, "Niantic's Got That One Thing" to help promote the village during a state tourism contest on Facebook.
"You were in the video?" said Malloy to a student as he began shaking their hands. "Can I have your autograph?"
Facebook voters in May chose Niantic as the fan-favorite town in a promotional contest that the Connecticut Office of Tourism held through social media.
"Everyone knows we have that one thing," said First Selectman Paul Formica as he welcomed the governor and visitors to the town. "That one thing is the people. They're great."
Formica thanked the state for partnering with the town on several Small Town Economic Assistance Program grants over the past several years. The town most recently received a $500,000 STEAP grant to repair the Niantic Bay Boardwalk.
Calling Niantic an "absolutely gorgeous community," Malloy told residents they had a great story to tell.
Malloy said he supported promoting the state's history, including its active involvement in the Revolutionary War, the Industrial Revolution and the Women's Rights Movement.
"We have undersold ourselves, and we are underappreciated," he said.
At the town green, residents watched a new video promoting Niantic, which the state will post on its tourism site, www.CTvisit.com. The video featured sites around town, from the Book Barn to the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, which Facebook voters chose as their favorite destination in town.
State Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, thanked Formica, town leaders and Niantic Main Street, a nonprofit organization, for their efforts.
Malloy said in an interview that the state experienced a $160 million uptick in tourism last year. Promotions, such as the fan-favorite video, will help further boost tourism, he said.
"We want Connecticut to be viewed as a great place both out of state and in state," he said.
The governor also toured downtown Niantic businesses on Wednesday. He had lunch at Main Street Grille before heading to Gumdrops & Lollipops Candy and Ice Cream Shoppe for a strawberry ice cream cone. His last stop was the Book Barn.
"You're one of our success stories," Malloy told Gumdrops & Lollipops owner Melinda Graus as they chatted about business.
Graus said she recently received a loan through the state Department of Economic and Community Development's Small Business Express Program, which enabled her to buy the building where her business is located.
Dave Labrie, an innkeeper, along with his wife, Sue, of The Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, said some of the inn's guests have mentioned the fan-favorite designation. He said he appreciates promotional efforts, including the state tourism website that lists information on communities for potential visitors.
Kate Eberle, social media manager of Grace, a Niantic boutique, who directed the YouTube video credited for helping win the "Fan Favorite" contest, said she wanted to convey the people and spirit of Niantic.
"Everyone in the video is smiling and enthusiastic," she said.