As you may know from my previous posts, we have been studying the economic impact of businesses in the Acushent Avenue commercial corridor with the help of grant from the Garfield Foundation. With the assistance of the CEDC, we convened a steering committee to help us define a study area for the project and help inform our research team. At the end of September, we began a survey of business owners. Among other things, the survey asked for employment and revenue history, business longevity and estimated customer residency. We also asked for general thoughts on neighborhood conditions, and gauged receptiveness to the formation of a business improvement district. Throughout the survey period, which lasted until early November, we conducted interviews with 69 business owners or managers. The population we spoke with reflects the range of establishments doing business in the neighborhood, from auto service stations and large manufacturers to fledgling cafes and multigenerational restaurants. While, the people we spoke with expressed an array of opinions, they agreed on a few key issues.
A major theme throughout our interviews was the number of opportunities for the neighborhood:
- Owners identified the conditions of the neighborhood as crucial to their success. These opinions were tied to questions about cleanliness, safety, and the public perception of the neighborhood. Some owners cited what might be called a lack of pride in the neighborhood, noting that they often have to clean trash left on the sidewalk outside of their business by residents and visitors. Others pointed the lack of proper lighting and a low police presence near their business as incubators for criminal activity. Regardless of their major concern, our interviewees recognized that these elements feed a negative perception of the neighborhood, which they feel limits the number of customers from other areas. Indeed, nearly half said that 50 percent or more of their customers live within walking distance.
- However, since their clientele is so hyper-local business owners have many direct interactions with residents throughout the day. There is an opportunity for the business and residential communities to build on this relationship, recognize their shared interests, and work together to effect change. Neighborhood groups must actively engage with the vibrant business community here. Greater alignment between the missions of these major stakeholders means a greater chance of having the needs of this neighborhood met. Through organization, they can broadcast a clear message to city officials.
- Our interviews revealed that the business community is ready to organize and receptive to the formation of a merchant’s association. Such a group could advocate for the needs of the community at state and local level, securing more resources for the part of the city they represent. Indeed, our research demonstrated that under current conditions many interviewees lacked knowledge of the number of assistance and incentive programs available. An active and aggressive merchant’s association would be an effective intermediary between the government and nonprofit entities that administer such programs and the community.
The results of our study will be released on December 15, and it is our hope that neighborhood organizations, such as this one, will be able to use our findings to advocate for more resources and better services. Check back here for more updates on this report’s release.