Merchants discuss how to increase downtown traffic in New Canaan
Updated 9:29 am, Sunday, June 12, 2011
The Market Demand Study Committee held its first public session along with the hired consultants of BFJ Planning and Urbanomics Tuesday night in Town Hall.
While the committee and consultants made a short presentation outlining the preliminary data they have collected thus far concerning the demographics, among other issues, the session focused on residents' questions and ideas for the study.
The study itself was a recommendation that came out of the 2007 Downtown New Canaan Strategic Plan. In terms of paying for the study, the town received a $75,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant in 2009 to cover the costs of the initiative.
"One of the things we want to accomplish tonight is to hear from you all so you could tell us where we should be going," Committee Chairman John Goodwin said.
With the news of Talbots, Lamakers and other downtown retailers closing their doors, residents were very concerned about the future of commerce in New Canaan. When one resident asked the committee and consultants if they were looking into ground-breaking methods to invite more efficient business, Tucker Murphy discussed the role of social media.
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"Well, social media is certainly something that rises to top every time, in my role with the Chamber of Commerce, that comes up over and over again in how we leverage social media. How do we get our merchants up to speed on social media?" Murphy said. "We have several folks in the room who train everyday people and businesses to get social media to work on their behalf. That's not something that is just coming down the pipeline, I mean it is here and we need to look at that dead on."
Another main focus of the evening was identifying the exact problems. Bob Green, owner of Barbel Jewelry, stressed to the consultants that the reasons New Canaan is having problems to begin with need to be positively identified before they can be solved. Otherwise, he said, the solutions that arise out of this study may just serve as short-term "Band-Aids."
"In 1986, this town was a viable thriving little town. Today it is not," Green said.
"So something has happened between 1986 and 2011. So what I didn't see [in the presentation] was a statement about what happened. ... For example, you have good demographics for today but what needs to be shown is what percentage of that population will actually come downtown and shop."
New Canaan resident Jane Himmel also asked whether the committee was focusing on just retail or if they were looking at other avenues to improve business in New Canaan as well.
"We have had that discussion and we have made it very clear that it is a broad definition," Goodwin said. "It is not just `retail.' "
New Canaan resident Cobie Graber brought up the idea of store hours. She suggested certain stores open earlier to allow shoppers to stay in New Canaan before they leave for the day.
She was referring to parents who may drop their kids off at school and then decide to go elsewhere to shop. If stores were open earlier, then parents and young families might have a reason to stay in town to shop she said.
Graber mentioned keeping stores extending their hours on certain days during dinner time so those who come to town for the restaurants can choose to wander in to some retail stores before or after they eat.
"So when people are out at night, even just testing it on a Thursday or a Friday night, having some of the stores open and also rewarding the shop and commercial owners who think of innovative ways to work with their tenants to make it more affordable," Graber said. "I think we should reward those people and look at them as local heroes for helping to preserve our community."
Other ideas included focusing on tourism, technology, parking and several other topics concerning business in New Canaan. However, the other most important point of discussion had to do with merchant and consumer attitudes.
"We also have to become some of the biggest cheerleaders for New Canaan," Arnold Karp, of Karp Associates and the Long Range Planning Committee, said regarding consumers. "As we continue to look for tenants, some of it is to put the right face on and say, `Geez, New Canaan is actually doing OK in comparison to some of the other communities.' "
Another New Canaan business owner, Stephen Gaeta of C and H Motors, stressed the importance of merchants being proactive and aggressive in their approach.
"I want to applaud everyone here. I think this study will turn out to be a wonderful tool used by the merchants," Gaeta said. "Business is a dynamic event. We need to change. We need to grow. We need to see what is out there and how we take care of our customers. Somebody mentioned the fact that we need to service our customers in a way that gives them a reason to come back to our stores and frequent us on a daily basis and I think that is so important. I think the results from this study will serve as a tool that will help us grow our businesses and allow us to be the best there is."