Business attitudes matter, and Cape Cod is remiss
Why "Box Stores" knock out "Mom & Pops"
By Teresa Martin
Last week I was Out & About to Suffolk University's breakfast, featuring Sen. Therese Murray. The group was surprisingly subdued with question time left unfilled. But there was one moment that crystallized a view held by one segment on the Cape, a view that is seldom spoken directly, bluntly, and publicly - but on that is worth doing some serious self-examination over, because it is not unique to one town and is echoed in various ways across the entire Cape and SE Mass region.
Chatham is not looking for jobs or businesses because it doesn't need those who can't already afford to live thereThe topic was business growth. A gentleman who identified himself as being from Chatham stood up and noted that Chatham was certainly not looking for jobs or businesses of course, so why not develop them in some place like New Bedford?
Chatham is not looking for jobs or businesses. The explicit statement caused a stir from some, but also a nodding of heads from others.
The implication of the statement was clear to everyone in the room: Chatham is not looking for jobs or businesses because it doesn't need those who can't already afford to live there.
Chatham is not looking for jobs of businesses.
Stop and think about that for a moment.
Is this the message our region sends? That not only are we NOT open and ready for business, but we don't want to be either?
It isn't just Chatham. Downtown Plymouth sends a similar message loud and clear too.
Yes, in Plymouth, "Development" apparently equals parking tickets on empty April weekends. Does that say "go to the mall" or what?!?!?One Saturday last April I convinced a friend to meet up in Plymouth's downtown, that the Indian restaurant there was very good and a perfect lunch location. Something different from the Kingston Mall. Indeed, it was good food, there were little shops to poke around in - but when I meandered back to my car, one of just a small handful scattered on the street, I was greeted with a $20 parking ticked from - and I am not making this up - The Plymouth Development Corporation.
Yes, in Plymouth, "Development" apparently equals parking tickets on empty April weekends. Does that say "go to the mall" or what?!?!?
But it actually gets worse. I paid it right at the end of its due date so it didn't get to the Development Corporation on time, and I was hit with yet an additional $20 fee. The lady on the phone at the Development Corporation was incredibly rude and unpleasant and announced that if I wanted to communicate I should fill out an online form. BTW, there is Economic Development Corporation in Plymouth too and the phone number associated with it rings to - and I am not making this up either - the DPW and the landfill.
All our small actions and statements send a message. And all these little actions add up. As a region, we like to complain bitterly that we don't have enough tax funds for essential services and that we don't have enough jobs with good wages and that our landscape is filled with half-empty glasses.
Chatham doesn't want jobs or businesses. Plymouth doesn't want anyone shopping downtownBut you know what? Maybe that's partly because this is how we present ourselves.
Chatham doesn't want jobs or businesses. Plymouth doesn't want anyone shopping downtown (and by extension doesn't support its retail base).
This week also featured many trips for home improvement items and in that mix I was reminded that businesses themselves can share this anti-business attitude, presenting an image that suggests businesses don't really want to be here either.
A not-to-be-named locally owned home improvement store was repeatedly a disaster. Bored sales staff. Floor folks who acted dismayed that a customer has appeared. Lack of selection. This is one of the reasons bricks & mortar retail, in general, has been a hurting puppy over the past decade.
A not-to-be-named locally owned home improvement store was repeatedly a disasterLast week the New York Times ran an article which reported that online sales growth was expected to reach $116 Billion this year, or about five percent of all retail sales. But that this rapid growth was leveling off, that category sales will still rise but by 10-20 percent, not the 40-60 percent rates we've been seeing.
The article further suggested that brick and mortar stores have improved customer service and interaction, and this has helped bring people back into traditional stores.
After leaving the local store, I went to the Home Depot in Hyannis. And returned repeatedly, making a decision to choose it over local-unpleasant-store
After leaving the local store, I went to the Home Depot in Hyannis. And returned repeatedly, making a decision to choose it over local-unpleasant-store. Maybe the New York Times nailed it. A year or so ago, Home Depot was a miserable retail experience, but this year people working there are helpful. There isn't enough sales staff, but those that are there try to meet needs with a smile. The same is true in the Wareham Home Depot.
If we are serious about supporting sustainable business, as a region we need to have policies and practices that tell new and existing businesses that they are welcome. To have actions, words, and attitudes that encourage and support growth. This isn't about lip service that "jobs are good" -- and it isn't about giving away our core values either.
A healthy human ecosystem includes business activity. That means businesses that sell to other business, businesses that export product, businesses that sell to off the street consumers, businesses that conduct commerce online ... Business is not the enemy!
But we can be our own worst enemy. We do this by projecting an image and sending a general message that businesses can't thrive here, that businesses shouldn't be here, and that there just isn't enough people/resources/money to support a diverse and vibrant economy.
Did I mention that attitude matters?
By this attitude and the actions that fall out from it, we create that reality. But we can change that reality too.
A business climate that works is a good thing. People who work for a living right here on the Cape and SE MA are a good thing. We aren't a museum or a gated community ... are we?