Thursday, October 11, 2001, Vol. 115, No. 171

Downtown merchants gather for forum

Downtown merchants gather for forum


The Daily News

Making sure residents and visitors to the Bluff City know what businesses reside Downtown, but more importantly making sure people visit inner-city businesses was the concern of an informal gathering of Downtown business owners Wednesday.

About 40 owners of Downtown businesses gathered at the First Tennessee Bank auditorium to discuss the potential of establishing a new association to support their businesses and the Downtown district.

The idea for the organization, which could be called the Downtown Merchants Association, came from past conversations between various merchant owners.

The Center City Commission organized Wednesdays meeting, which aimed to explore interest in a cooperative association.

Jeff Sanford, CCC president, welcomed participants and Dena Owens, CCC marketing specialist, gave a presentation about how and why to form a DMA.

While the CCC organized the first meeting, officials said they would not direct the organization. Merchant members would control it.

What is the CCC role? We have agreed to convene further discussion of this idea, he said.

Some benefits of a DMA would be to create a strong voice for Downtown issues, supply cooperative advertising and improve business by creating referral systems, Owens said.

After the presentation, five business owners presented their views of why a DMA would be beneficial. For the most part, merchants were supportive.

We have to be unselfish first and promote Downtown, said Thomas Boggs, owner of Hueys restaurants.

Even if a customer ate at a competitors restaurant, it is beneficial because the person visits the Downtown district, he said.

Ill get my shot at him eventually, he said.

Other speakers included Memphis City Council member Rickey Peete, also executive director of the Beale Street Merchants Association; Carol Freeman, owner of Carabellas; Mac Edwards, owner of McEwens; and Pat Halloran, president of the Orpheum.

Halloran, who was integral in starting the Downtown Memphis Association in 1981, had cautious words to convey.

Im not at all opposed to what I sense is needed here, Halloran said, commenting on the good attendance to the meeting.

But, he cautioned there were serious questions to answer including how much will membership cost, how much will the association spend and who would will run it.

After the presentations, those in the audience introduced themselves and their businesses.

Attendee Patrick Neely, owner of Neelys Bar-B-Que said he was supportive of a DMA and would open his door to small meetings.

B.J. Chester-Tamayo, manager of Alcenias, a restaurant in the Pinch District, said she attended the meeting because she felt like a stepchild business, because people know about Beale Street restaurants, but not about those in her area of town.

Some business owners felt a large organization could turn into a detriment if small business owners are lost in the shuffle.

I would be interested in a small Downtown merchant association, said Julie Ray, owner of Cafe Francisco at 400 N. Main St.

She pointed to smaller associations she thought were successful such as the South Main Street Association.