Main Street merchants agree to pool resources
April 10, 2009
The annual meeting of the Historic Main Street Business Alliance Wednesday night at the Kimball Art Center revealed just how much the merchants have in common and how much they don’t.
The attending members voted in large majority to raise their business license renewal fees by about $63 to increase the board’s budget by nearly half and improve its ability to market the popular shopping district. They were unanimous in supporting the board’s proposed budget for 2009.
The merchants disagreed over the value of street festivals such as the Triple Crown Softball Tournament parade and summer car shows. Gallery owners complained that such events brought people who were not "their customers" and the crowds discouraged people in their target market from coming.
The Historic Main Street Business Alliance has been around for years, but has experienced many incarnations. Membership and its accompanying dues used to be voluntary, making unity a difficult goal to achieve.
When the city turned the area into a Business Improvement District last year, mostly to simplify garbage-removal contracts with Allied Waste, the change in status made membership and dues mandatory.
That created a budget for the alliance of about $40,000 and made it possible to hire program director Sandy Geldof, explained board president Jeff Ward.
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At the annual meeting Wednesday, Geldof and the board explained what they did with that money in 2008 and what it would like to do with it in 2009.
The meeting also provided a forum for Main Street merchants to hear economic forecasts from the Park City Chamber/Bureau and discuss summer event planning with representatives from the city.
Geldof secured grants for the alliance last year that doubled the budget. She and the board also to orchestrated contracts with Allied Waste for the merchants at a lower cost, oversaw the creation of a brand and logo, created a new website: http://www.rightonmain.com and acted as liaison and advocate with City Hall on behalf of the neighborhood.
Most of that work was accomplished by Geldof on a salary just over $20,000, Ward explained.
One of Geldof’s primary goals is to improve the marketing of the district. Competing commercial districts in the area such as Redstone, the Tanger Outlets, Newpark, Quarry Village and North of Main (NoMa) have been working hard to distinguish themselves.
Main Street has always taken marketing for granted, and it’s time to change that, Ward said.
Last year, over half of the alliance’s budget went toward marketing efforts such as the creation of the logo, brand, website and hosting of events, Geldof explained.
But different merchants have different target markets. For example, some would like to see more locals shop on Main Street, others would like to attract more visitors. That’s why the alliance will be conducting a "membership needs survey" this year to determine how those marketing dollars would be best spent.
"We’ve got to understand who we’re targeting and go about it in a more methodical way," Ward said.
Those differing interests created tension when city special event programmers Max Papp and Bob Kollar began discussing this summer’s schedule of Main Street festivals.
The city would like to attract as many applicants as possible, Kollar said. But closing the street is such a hassle that the city is also interested in beginning to prioritize when and how long that occurs, Papp said. When people can’t park on the street, they tend to go elsewhere, he explained.
Board member Monty Coates said everyone sees a dip in business when the closures occur several hours prior to an event and stay closed for hours.
"They (customers) see the barricades and bug out," he said.
Store owners Susan Meyer and Jane Schaffner asked the city to persuade large events to schedule time on the street during the off-season so as not to crowd out their customers.
"We’re not dependent on quantity of clients, but on quality of clients," Meyer said.
From the city’s point of view, there’s a need to accommodate large groups when they want to come, Papp explained.
Scott Toly of the Red Banjo Pizzeria benefits from large groups being on the street and challenged the idea that only certain types of people were welcome.
Other topics discussed included ways of drawing more holiday shoppers.
Geldof proposed creating a "winter carnival" atmosphere and investing in coordinated light decorations for the entire street.
"Our amazing geography lends itself to that. Redstone can’t do it; Newpark can’t do it," she said. "Let’s do something ‘Norman Rockwell-ish.’ Holidays are very sensory."
Reaction to her proposals was mixed. Meyer expressed support.
"Not necessarily everything should be about pulling out your wallet. I want to make money too, but let’s make Main Street a place to come," she said.
Check out http://www.rightonmain.com for more information about the doings of the Historic Main Street Business Alliance.