Monday, March 13, 2006

Main Street Manager Survey Interim Results

Please be sure to see the comments section for a simply amazing
dialogue. -grw 15 Mar 0845

WoW! The opinions are flying. This is obviously an important issue for many Laurelites. There has been so much activity that I can't keep up. Be sure to see the comments section of the previous post on the Main Street Manager. There is a rapidly growing dialogue found there.

I've included the survey results below from 33 people who took the time to participate. There is plenty of insight in the open essay answers below. Well worth the time to read through it all.

Please send the survey URL to your friends and neighbors: I'll leave it open for new folks to respond until next weekend.

Thanks to all the voters, merchants, public officials, candidates and everyone else that is participating in the Laurel Connections blog experiment. We have reached a milestone of over 1000 visitors this weekend and almost 2400 page views.

It is obvious that this kind of forum provides a new kind of front porch or back fence for us to discuss local issues. Thanks also to everyone who sent kind words. I'm very happy to facilitate, but it's all of you that are making this experiment so successful.

Best Regards,


Results as of 14March 2006 8:00 pm (41 participants)

Question 1: I am:
a Main Street business owner. 9.8% 4
a resident of the city of Laurel. 63.4% 26
both a business owner and a resident. 14.6% 6
neither a Laurel city resident nor a business owner. 4.9% 2
Other (please specify) 7.3% 3
1. curious person
2. former business owner, current resident
3. resident and a non-main street, non retail business

Question 2: Do you support the idea of a Main Street Manager for Laurel?
Yes 65% 26
No 35% 14

Question 3: How should the Main Street Manager position and operating expenses be paid for?
Laurel city taxpayers should pay for the manager. 16.1% 5
Main Street businesses should pay for the manager. 29% 9
The city taxpayers and the business owners should split the cost. 45.2% 14
Other. 9.7% 3
1. it should initially be rolled out by the city with a split as it progresses
2. City & business should split it but more like 75-25 at first.
3. don't need

Question 4. If you support the idea of a Main Street manager, please indicate your opinion about how they should spend their time.
The numbers below should be interpreted in this order:

Strongly Disagree/Disagree/No Opinion/Agree /Strongly/Agree/Average
Coordinating the Main Street merchant's opening and closing times.
8% (2) 23% (6) 27% (7) 35% (9) 8% (2) 3.12
Ensuring proper signage to simplify finding stores and parking.
0% (0) 4% (1) 7% (2) 56% (15) 33% (9) 4.19
Developing and distributing marketing and promotional materials.
0% (0) 0% (0) 8% (2) 38% (10) 54% (14) 4.46
Developing and coordinating a unifying brand identity for Laurel's Historic Main Street.
0% (0) 0% (0) 28% (7) 24% (6) 48% (12) 4.20
Developing and managing promotional events (festivals, sidewalk sales, ...)
0% (0) 0% (0) 4% (1) 48% (13) 48% (13) 4.44
Operating a Main Street information center.
0% (0) 12% (3) 20% (5) 44% (11) 24% (6) 3.80
Attending conferences and other venues to promote Laurel's Historic Main Street.
0% (0) 4% (1) 19% (5) 37% (10) 41% (11) 4.15
Writing grants for additional funding and resources.
0% (0) 4% (1) 4% (1) 26% (7) 67% (18) 4.56
Helping merchants successfully interact with city, county and state governments.
0% (0) 4% (1) 11% (3) 26% (7) 59% (16) 4.41

Total Respondents 27

5. (OPTIONAL) What other activities do you think are either important for or should be avoided by a Main Street manager?

1. The Main Street Manager should avoid City/County/State Politics entirely.

2. There could be a place in the manager office building or outside it to post jobs available, apartments for rent, real Estate for sale, Specials or sales going on on main street only.

3. The choices in #4 hit on many of the major duties of a Main Street Manager. The Manager should be the advocate for Main Street businesses and residents.

4. The Main Street manager program is not designed to impede on the individual business owners within there place of business. They are there as a resource, an advocate, a marketing/PR guru, a coordinator, a cheerleader, a guide..... They would be the "go to person" on all Main Street issues. They would be the lead on attracting new business to MAIN STREET. They would also be implementing the approach that is laid out by the Maryland Main Street Program to begin to return the economic viability that our street needs.

5. I don't feel like the businesses in Laurel need someone telling them how to run their business.

6. We DON'T need any more nail or hair shops, or thrift stores. We DO need shops and services that residents of the historic district would use weekly and can walk to, that would also attract shoppers from other areas. A video store, bakery, ice-cream shop, a coffee house that's actually open long enough for an after-dinner "night-cap," etc. The mangager should oversee a survey of residents to see what buinesses they would likely visit frequently, and then the CITY should PAY INCENTIVES (or rather offer tax BREAKS) for a few years to the top "most wanted" business that have user-friendly hours, using GRANT or TAX DOLLARS. Yes, we'd all be "eating" those costs for a little while, but a revitalized Main Street will make for a strong retail economy in the long run. Visit Ellicott City for a great example.

7. Bringing in new business that the community can and desires to support, but at the same time, businesses that preserve the 'old town' feel of the city.

8. Should serve on the Historice District Commission. Shouldn't micro-manage the businesses on Main St.

9. Absolutely NOT funded by any tax money

10. business recruiting and retention, dealing with our absentee landlords.

11. Help merchants when their business is in trouble. They should have suggestions for them, this is part of their job.

12. Make sure all the buildings meet the historic standards and that the businesses are appropriate for 'the historic' district. Clean up the appearance of Main Street and ensure that the area doesn't look shabby

Question 6. Why are you opposed or under what conditions would you support a Main Street manager?

1. Thank you for allowing me to take the survey.

2. This is the same thing that Sarich guy said last election and has done nothing about it.

3. The Main Street Manager should be reasonable local (not necessary Laurel Citizen). Will need to work well with City Departments and Agencies.

4. Main Street is doing fine without a manager, I know how to run my business.

5. Why Main Street and not the other commercial areas? Would the Mall have been saved if the City had paid for a Mall Manager?

6. I would support a Main Street Manager if the person and the program followed the tenets of the Main Street Program. Also, the Manager should be as impartial as possible. Although the Admin Asst for the Board of Trade does some work that is Main Street Manager-like, this person is an employee of the Board of Trade and is therefore in a position of real or potential conflict of interest in areas such as member recruitment and events and promotions. 18 Maryland communities and 1700 communities nation wide have figured this out- how to operate successful Main Street programs. Part of the process is change. Yes, so much is done well in Laurel, there is always room for improvement. On the matter of having a program such as this "forced" on the merchants; there is a need for everyone to become more educated on the program and why it succeeds. Yes, there may not be too many vacant spaces on or adjacent to Main Streets, but there are struggling merchants, some making it only from month to month. In addition, Main Street merchants are a more diverse group than ever before. Perhaps the old approach works well for Main Street of 3 or 5 years ago, but the merchants I have spoken with are ready for cooperation and collaboration with each other.

7. History of business owners on the street, particularly in self-management, strongly indicates that they may not be good subjects for "management." I agree with you that government has no business running private for-profit entities -- however, if it was going to try, the Mall might be a better place to start. Give the new owners time to renovate, then have the city take over management? Whadayathink?

8. No need

9. We have other areas of retail etc. in the City. Maybe instead of just Main Street we need someone to draw business to the whole area.

10. If you what real economic development the city should create a department that serves the entire city. The commercial areas need an aggressive plan to max out potential. What does not fit on Main St. might belong in another section of town or vice versa ,if the manager is only focused on Main St. opportunity will slip away quickly. Before any manager is considered the Main St. groups need to have their act togetherBy the way which group actually represents the businesses on the St and which group as the most Main St. investment??

11. will the manager unite the multitude of groups on mainstreet? why is it not the individual businesses that work to bring their customers to the street? why are you focusing on mainstreet and not including ALL small business in Laurel? (such as - "ma & pa" - qualify small business by number employees) mainstreet may be a nice historic draw - but it is the city's overall economy and IMAGE that is important to bring poeple to our fair locale. the energy and money spent working towards a manager would be better spent to clean and dress the city and portray us as THE place to be - despite the fact we are in PG county.

12. I like Main Street the way it is, I really don't want something new that doesn't fit in with the Historic feel of Main Street, and I'm afraid that's what a manager would push. I also don't think that the businesses should be told how to run their business.

13. For as little as $50/year, you can have a part-time paid employee of the Laurel Board of Trade do the majority of the duties of a M.S.M. Our Admin. already develops/distributes promotional materials/develops and manages promotional events/operates a Main St. info center in our office/acts as liason between government and businesses/we have a committee for grant research and one for business development. In essence, we already HAVE a Main Street Manager working within the Laurel Board of Trade.

14. Because there is nothing wrong with Main st. The businesses are doing fine. There is great mix of them filling many needs. Yes they are not open at night but that is because the owners want to go home after a hard days work. The new construction on the 300 block and parking problems are a testament to how well they are doing. A manager can only give suggestions and ask for help. A good business person can do that himself. We don't have a residential manager either. What we do have is a large, well run city government that is capable and equipped to help businesses and residents in any way they need. One more person at $ 5 0 , 0 0 0 per year is not needed. It is easy to say that it will work, but to me, it is a n expensive gamble. The four point approach says nothing. Design will only happen if the building owners want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their building. Organization is already in place (board of trade, friends, chamber of commerce, etc. Promotion, we have an information technology office , cable channel, festivals, and more. Economic Restructuring is already happening, just look at the many various shops and new construction. It might be a good idea, if it were needed.

15. Do you have any idea how much this would cost? Who is going to pay the bill? More taxes? A special assessment on Main Street property owners and business owners? Hasn't anyone noticed that real estate assessments have gone through the roof lately, as have other operating expenses such as insurance bills and utilities. Why is this an election year issue? How many successful Main Street business people support the Main Street manager concept? There are a lot more questions than answers. The current Mayor, key staff, and Council members have exhibited tremendous leadership in recent years to reinvigorate the entire City tax base in a responsible manner. A Main Street manager is not needed. Hopefully this idea will fade away again after the municipal elections.


Councilman Sarich said...

Wow! I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of support for this program! I was on Main Street today and talked with Fred Frederick, Leo Emery, Billy Miles and a number of other business owners.

I mention each of them by name because they were very generous with their time and very open in their consideration of the program. All pointed out the pitfalls and promises of past programs and the potential of this program (both the plusses and minuses). I’m grateful to them for their time and their encyclopedic knowledge of Laurel’s Main Street.

You can be sure when this program comes into being, we will not forget the lessons of past problems thanks to these gentlemen’s fine contributions & the many of you who have taken the time to post and respond to Rick's fine blog.

Councilman Sarich said...

I want to be very clear as there may be some misunderstanding.

I did not say ot intimate that any of the above mentioned gentleman are for the Main St. Manager program at this time. In fact I took pains to point out that they mentioned the pitfalls of the previous programs and the potential negatives of this program.

I mentioned them only because I was and remain grateful that they took time out of VERY busy schedules to share the problems & promises of past attempts at improving Main St. I wanted to sit down with them specifically because they have "been there and done that" when it comes to all things Main St.

Frankly, they were open, honest, and impressive with thier knowledge. In short, I stand by my post. We did meet individually, they did advise, and I did benefit from thier advice. In fact, as they would tell you, I took notes.

I believe that this program will happen and it will be better because of these men and others who have contributed through this blog and other means. Laurel is a "can do community" not one that lets past mistakes preclude future action.