A committee of Downtown PKB volunteers recently held their first downtown business canvass in order to get better acquainted with their neighbors, particularly the retailers. While they certainly did not have the opportunity to visit with even the majority of downtown businesses, this is only the beginning. There are more business outreach times scheduled.
If you're a downtown business who didn't receive a visit from one of the Downtown PKB volunteers, don't wait for them to contact you; contact them.
In conversations with business owners, several observations were noted by the volunteers. First was that not everyone's business needs are the same. This is not particularly profound, but worth noting. Like any diverse neighborhood, there is no "one size fits all" approach that will address the concerns of every business downtown. There are, however, several common issues.
While there will always be a need for a well-organized parking plan, each specific location must be studied for the best usage for everybody involved. This is not easy or simple, but very doable. Some strides have been made, but there is much more to do.
Another issue noted is that of communications. Not only do few people know what's going on at the Smoot, the Actors Guild, or the Art Center at any given time, it is a fact that many people don't even know what retail opportunities are available downtown. That's often because the best way to discover what's in downtown is to walk it. Several of our volunteers were surprised to uncover unique shopping opportunities that they did not know existed.
To that point, those of us in downtown must do a better job of collectively communicating our existence. We must cooperatively promote ourselves, first to each other, and then to the public at large. The "If you build it, they will come" philosophy only works if you told them that you built it. We all must promote ourselves together.
Also noted by the PKB volunteers was the sense of how much personal pride local business owner take in their downtown businesses. They all want to be downtown because they recognize that being there means being part of something bigger than them. They understand they are part of a community and a neighborhood, and that's important. They are part of a cultural fabric that makes them unique, individual and special. No one is like them. They are extraordinary.
Downtown businesses offer things that are significantly distinct, often merely by their location. A downtown environment is unlike any other. It is a concentration of experiences.
In the Hotel's restaurant we have few customers that come to us and order the same food and beverage every time. We appreciate their loyalty and are grateful for their patronage. I do wish, however, they would occasionally consider experiencing something new. New and different can often trump familiarity.
If you haven't spent time in downtown lately, I encourage you to do so. It's a new and different experience every time.
Come see me. I'll be in the lounge.
Cecil Childress is General Manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and Chairman of Downtown PKB.