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Building Business on Main Street

The Main Problem with Main Street


I've been impressed with our town manager, town council, planning board, zoning board, and so on (disclaimer: I served on the planning board and was chair for two years). The streets get plowed, Town Hall is responsive, we have a favorable bond rating.

But we don't have a vibrant Main Street. Too many small businesses go belly-up becaue the owners act like the business is an avocation, not an occupation. You can't run a breakfast place without cereal and fruit on the menu (what do you do with kids) and tell customers it's an average 20-minute wait; you can't run a coffee shop with an employee playing video games instead of serving waiting customers; you can't have a clothing shop that smells of dampness and mold; you don't park your own car taking up three spaces of a parking lot intended for the stores.

I think the city should provide free training in finance, customer service, marketing, and technology to new businesses that open (or existing ones that need it). Use volunteers for an hour a week, people who know these fields. We need to fill Main Street and eliminate the eysores of empty storefronts.

Too many of these owners have passion for the work, but no business sense. 

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Lea Knepley June 01, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Should the city provide free training for East Greenwich businesses? No, as a business owner, that sounds like the city would like to have a say in HOW I run my business. However, I have another idea. Maybe a non-profit business group should organize the merchants to advise each other. This may take a change in attitude...rather than "survival of the fittest" this could be a community building activity that helps everyone. There is already a wealth of experienced, knowledgeable and successful business owners on Main Street, let's tap into it.
Mutato June 01, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I think the main thing, outside of giving proper service like you mention, is parking. Modern day(!) shoppers are programmed to expect large easy parking within steps of their store. It's that simple. I think a municipal parking garage should be planned somewhere in town. Since we are built into a hill, you could possibly make one that is not TOO intrusive. Off the hill, I see that parking lot next plus the convenience store (corner of London St). It's centrally located and could alleviate a lot of the parking issues.
Alan Weiss, PhD June 01, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Wouldn't that also mean the parking restriction to two hours should be lifted if people are to have a nice lunch or women get their hair done?
EG Lurker June 01, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Shouldn't education in successful business tactics and strategy be something the EG Chamber offers?
Alan Weiss, PhD June 01, 2012 at 08:57 PM
I like that idea a lot. That combines the business people helping each other with a structure to make it happen.
Karen Paley June 02, 2012 at 10:56 AM
Parking is always a concern for me when I, as a woman, get my hair done (20 minutes max), use the cobbler or the jeweler, frequent our wonderful library (oops not on Main St.) or choose a restaurant. One of the many things I like about Besos (mostly I am a lunch person) is the availability of parking. Back to Basics is more expensive than alternate alternative stores, but it has parking. Since I like to limit the amount of gas I use, I would much prefer local shopping. I don't know of the merchants suggested in the original blog, but I don't think we lost Giuseppes because of the owner regarding his business as an avocation. He worked hard and long hours and the food was great. But how many soaces was he alloted in the lot across the street?
minivanhell June 02, 2012 at 06:35 PM
There is parking in town - the problem is people don't like to walk. Why can't you park at the municipal lot by the old police station.
ELM June 02, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Here's my problem with downtown. There are no reasonably priced stores that I need or want to go to on a regular basis, except CVS. I occasionally go to Main St Grill and Fat Bellys and find I am willing to battle the parking problem when it is something I want to do. How often do most of us have a need for bridal shops or designer services?
Annmarie June 02, 2012 at 07:55 PM
I don't think all those small businesses went belly up for those reasons. I believe it's due to a lack of traffic and committment from the community not to always run to those big box stores. Yes, you may have to park down the street and walk a little but isn't everyone complaining they need to excercise more anyway. Parking could stand to be more than two house since we all know just a salon trip could be that long. I think we have fallen victim to convenience. Main has a nice distiction of services. The majority of downtown isn't just Bridal Shops or designer services. I have seen a toy store, a book store, a kitchen store, and gift store go out of business most recently. Maybe they would still be here if people didn't travel to the big box stores. There are plenty of salons, a dog bakery, Restaurants, some nice cafe's, and clothing stores. Jewelry stores, high end and not. A wonderful little gift store called Smyle....Yes I have one of those Bridal Shops but we don't only sell Bridal Gowns. I think if more people maybe took advantage of the strolls/downstown ambiance and had the opportunity to walk in and out of every store they may be pleasantly surprised at what each has to offer :O)
JavaJen June 02, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Rather than try to compete with box stores or online shopping, I think we need more shops that people are willing to endure a little parking inconvenience for - the shopping-as-entertainment concept. For example, I am up on Hope St. in Providence often and Seven Stars bakery is always mobbed, even though their parking lot is tiny and Hope St. doesn't have any more parking than our Main St has. Some of our Main St restaurants draw people in, but primarily at night. We need a couple that will pull people in during the day.

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