MONTROSE—(September 17, 2013) Once again, a lack of communication has left Downtown business owners and others crying foul about the City’s newly-created Office of Business & Tourism, which has come under fire for closing Main Street for two days on behalf of a group of out-of-area filmmakers last month—and amidst the uproar, questions and concerns over city spending, the city’s four-day work week, and the benefits derived from Main in Motion are also being raised by those in the local business community. Some longtime merchants are also questioning why an organization that they felt was accountable and which served them well, the Montrose Area Merchants Association (MAMA), was disbanded.
Though the controversial street closures that took place over the weekend of Aug. 23-24 on behalf of crews filming a zombie movie were supposedly planned in advance by the OBT, many Main Street businesses were caught off guard. The35-year-old Montrose Farmers Market, which has its own space at South First and Uncompahgre, was able to convince the film crews that they had the right to remain Downtown, however, customers of some Main Street businesses did not fare as well.
“We spent four hours watching the crews ride up and down Main Street on their ATV’s, chasing our customers away,” said Dahlia Floral (431 East Main St.) owner Rachel Schmucker.
Among those who offered constructive criticism afterwards were Barbara McDonald of Adams Vacuum and Montrose Sewing Center (509 East Main) and Ernie Tolvo of Computer Business Solutions (523 East Main). Though McDonald’s concerns over lost business made the front page of the Montrose Daily Press, nobody from the City has called her to apologize or ask for advice on ways to better serve Downtown merchants, she said.
“It benefitted them,” she said, “and everybody Downtown just kind of said, ‘oh well.’ But I don’t think it is right—Bob Brown (of the Downtown development Authority) is the only one who stopped by to apologize.”
Ernie Tolvo, who took the time to appear before Montrose City Council to register his concerns, said that his customers were unable to park in front of his store on the busiest day of the work week.
“Fridays are huge for me,” Tolvo said. “We do about thirty percent of our intake on Fridays, and the people who bring their computers in for us to work on are often older—they need to be able to park in front of our store.”
Fridays are already problematic in the summer because of Main in Motion, which Tolvo believes has run its course.
“The City is not doing enough for the people of the City,” Tolvo said. “We still have streets right in the middle of town that are not paved! And I don’t think Main in Motion is doing what it was expected to do. It was supposed to enhance retail Downtown; but all of these outside vendors come in, set up shop up and down the street, and I spend Friday mornings picking up all of the trash and scraping gum off the sidewalks. I feel that Main in Motion should be restricted to Downtown businesses.
“I think there is a lot to be addressed, and now is the time to do it,” he said. “Main in Motion is not going on, and nobody is shutting down Main Street. Downtown business is tough enough.”
Tolvo said he also does not believe a four-day work week is appropriate for a municipality the size of Montrose, where citizens often prefer to access city offices and services on Fridays.
“If they want to run the City like a corporation, you still have to cover business,” he said. “We should have access to city services throughout the work week—any time that businesses are open. When I was MIS Manager at Motorola, I had 250 programmers working for me. We had four-day work weeks, but we staggered them so the work got done. I was there all the time of course, but it was a good deal for the programmers—they were not responsible for making any decisions.”
Tolvo said he finds the Downtown Development Authority (DDA)’s 3 p.m. meeting times difficult, but plans to attend those meetings in future in hopes of making changes.
“I just want the City and the DDA to truly think about Downtown,” he said. “When we had MAMA (the former Montrose Area Merchants Association), Juli Messenger would meet with us at 7 a.m.–she was wonderful. Meetings in the morning or evening are far better for working business owners.”
Tolvo said he also misses the emphasis on local spending that MAMA strongly encouraged.
“Things purchased locally might cost a little more, but the multiplier effect means that the money re-circulates here eight times,” he said. “If you spend money in Denver, it stays over there.”
Brian Badini of Pollux (433 East Main St.) was even more direct.
“Main in Motion was beautiful when MAMA was in charge,” he said. “Now it is a complete mess; with the streets closed, it is a circus atmosphere, which I don’t want coming in my store—we see too much theft. And the Zombies? I found out about the street closure the day before—and when I sent an email to (Montrose City Manager) Bill Bell, he sent me a nasty email back.
“I think everything they are doing in Downtown right now is a mistake.”
Badini said that the City’s taking of $600,000 in funds that were formerly allotted to the Montrose Association of Commerce & Tourism (a combination of the former MAMA, Montrose Visitor & Convention Bureau, and Montrose Chamber of Commerce that was created by a city-driven process in 2010) amounted to nothing more than a money grab. He was less than impressed with the $40,000 spent on the City’s Fourth of July concert, which some estimate was attended by only around 2,000.
“It was ridiculous,” he said. “They gave everybody the finger when they took that money. I think they just took it so they could do something else with it. And any idiot knows that when you put on a concert, you have to promote it. Otherwise, there’s no reason to spend that kind of money. I think the funds should have been left with people who can actually manage them.”
Those who rely on the City or DDA for help will have to fend for themselves, Badini said.
Phuong Nguyen of Coffee Trader (845 East Main St.), who serves on the DDA board, said that blame for the lack of communication regarding the Zombie film should be shared by the City and DDA, though it was the City that chose to promote the film and issue the extensive closure of Main Street for two business days. However, as a business owner, he also said that he understands the frustrations that many endured because of the street closure, and expressed hope that the City will do a better job of communicating and accounting for the expenditures it has made from the former retail enhancement and tourism promotion funds.
“Both the City and the DDA have to take responsibility,” Nguyen said. “There are procedures in place, but they were not followed. And had there been an administrator in place when they City took that money, I believe things would have turned out differently. Now that there is someone in place (the City recently hired Ouray’s Jennifer Loshaw as coordinator of the Montrose Office of Business & Tourism), there are HUGE expectations for the Christmas season and afterwards.”
Though he feels it would be unfair to assess the City’s performance at this point, Nguyen made it clear that he and others expect increased accountability in future.
“With someone in place now, there are expectations of much greater return,” he said. “The public expects more.”
Rachel Schmucker at Dahlia Floral hopes to see less divisiveness on Main Street, and more emphasis on the business community.
“We need everyone to be on the same track; we need to get united, and we need to reach our whole community,” she said.
Brian Badini hopes to see a new DDA Director in place soon who can help return the emphasis to facilitating rather than thwarting commerce Downtown.
“I don’t like the way things have panned out,” Badini said. “There is no help coming from the City or the DDA— when it comes to City Council, pet projects always come out ahead. The Pavilion loses money, but they want to spend $30,000 on a marquis sign—why not spend $100,000 Downtown to beautify Main Street, slow traffic and beautify the parks?
“When it comes to doing business, the climate here sure is rough.”