Sunday, February 13, 2011

Strawberry closes, but to the DDA they're just a number

On Friday (2/11), the Ferndale Patch's Terry Paris Jr. reported on the closing of downtown favorite, Strawberry Moon Bakery.
"We just aren't making any money," owner Jon Glab said. "It's difficult and disappointing. We've had a good time in Ferndale. We just can't do it anymore." 
"We lost a lot of customers due to the recession that didn't come back." 
Glab said they stuck it out in the hopes that it might turn around, but it hasn't. 
"It's been rough," he said. "I haven't paid myself in a very long time."
Less than three weeks ago, the DDA trumpted to city council that 40 new businesses came to Ferndale in 2010, helping make-up for 14 that left in the same year and 26 vacancies from the year before (14 + 26 = 40).

Contrary to their boasting about new businesses coming to Ferndale, the DDA's communications and marketing directory Chris Hughes' struck a more sedate tone about Strawberry's closing:
"We're surprised as well as disappointed to see Strawberry Moon close," said Chris Hughes, communications director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. "It's always sad to have a business you know and love (close)."
Hughes said she doesn't think the recent closures are a trend, especially because a few of the spaces have already been leased or sold. 
"Club 9 has been sold and is expected to reopen as another club. Rockin Soul is closed, but the space has been leased. We've learned to stop hitting the panic button."
Not hitting the panic button is a luxury the DDA has that downtown businesses do not enjoy.  The DDA is tax-payer supported and has a  $500,000+ budget that survives whether businesses do or not--as long as there are landlords owning the buildings.

Strawberry's owners hit the panic button--as did the owners of Amoure, Rockin' Soul, Nami, New to You Music, Angel's Cafe, The Chaldean Club, Josephine's and others.
"The bottom line is that businesses come and go, let's not panic," (Hughes) said.
Easy for her to say.  As successful as the DDA may be at recruiting businesses to downtown Ferndale, they seem far less successful at retaining them.  Of course, the DDA isn't necessarily responsible for businesses' success, but it is supposed to be responsible for a healthy business climate--for both bars and retailers.

The DDA has used the number of 210 as the number of core downtown businesses.  40 new businesses represents a turnover of nearly 20% (40/210*100=19.0476%).  If the DDA were a business with 20% turnover in employees, they'd be performing horribly.  But a 20% turnover in office supplies (paper clips, staples, white-out) is OK.

So the DDA's lack of reaction to downtown's turnover may be a good measure of how they regard downtown businesses--easily replaceable.  Better to assign them numbers like farmers do steer and sheep for slaughter so they don't get too attached to them.

Perhaps its simply an occupational hazard (".. businesses come and go..").  I'll believe the DDA has sustainability on the mind when I start hearing from downtown retailers that the DDA is spending more time asking them how they can help their stores (or get out of their way) than bars or the DDA's reputation with the Main Street program.


  1. What do you do to help promote downtown Ferndale business besides pointing out perceived shortcomings of the DDA?

  2. Todd, that's a fair question. Derek Peters asked a similar question on Facebook. You can check it out on my facebook page.

    How far are you willing to trust an organization that seeks kudos and tax dollars for deliberately misleading numbers?

  3. Perhaps you misunderstood the question. What do YOU do, personally, to promote Ferndale business? Maybe you could spend some of the energy you’re using to gather statistics and making feeble analogies to actually write something positive about Ferndale.

  4. Why does it matter what I do personally? Am I required to have my own DDA before pointing out another's bad math? Am I required to have organized businesses for a common goal before objecting to another organization's attempt to take tax money from around the city to spend downtown? Must I have stood up for downtown retailers and bar owners against horrible accusations before pointing out horrible sandwich board rules?

  5. Frankly, someone who seeks to be a community leader and elected representative ought to be able to champion their community as well as attempting to mend whatever perceived problems there are. Your rhetoric is inflammatory (like sheep for slaughter? Really?) and offers no benefit.

    It’s not the fault of the DDA that some businesses close. I’m sure you are aware that opening a small business is a risky endeavor, more fail than succeed in the long term. If, in fact, only fourteen businesses closed in 2010 while forty opened, the DDA is doing their job, and it’s you that is attempting to mislead people with numbers.

  6. "Frankly, someone who seeks to be a community leader and elected representative ought to be able to champion their community as well as attempting to mend whatever perceived problems there are."

    I agree. If you think I haven't done that then you've either a short memory, suffer from a lack of curiosity, or need more diverse sources of information and opinion.

    As it is, you don't need a good memory or a more diverse group of friends. There are 102 articles on the right under the category of "local politics" that go back to 2005. You may discover there's more to advocate for than city council and the DDA. There are articles advocating for neighbors against noise and zoning ordinances and advocating for businesses against taxes and accusations of racism.

    It is important to note the DDA, Chamber of Commerce, and even Citizens for a Fair Ferndale sat on the sidelines when it became necessary to defend our businesses against accusations of racism.

    In the end, you and I may disagree on how leaders "champion their community." I think our community is more than the DDA, city council, or downtown bars and restaurants. Those are only pieces and proxies of the community, the rest of the community should be advocated for just as vigorously.

  7. Well, I do admit that I find it painful to read your rants that are generally full of contempt for individuals and organizations. It seems that you cannot form an argument without disrespecting the people you have an issue with. Maybe there are instances where you have come out FOR something. I’m not inclined to excavate the existing pile to find it, given all that I have read thus far.

    I have no problem with differing opinions but I find it rather absurd that you make the argument that the DDA is attempting to mislead us with numbers while you are doing the precise same thing. To what purpose? To make the DDA look bad? I hope that works out for you.

  8. How is pointing out the city does not get an 1150% return on their money /my/ misleading people?

    How is pointing out that 40 new business means there were 40 vacancies misleading people?

    How is pointing out that Royal Oak and Birmingham spend more on their downtowns than Ferndale because they're bigger misleading people? Or when we did the math we discovered more is spent per-store in Ferndale than is spent by Birmingham?

    Many college admissions offices are taken to task for reporting exceptional enrollment of minorities, only to find out later minority drop-rates from those same colleges were staggering compared to non-minorities. So should the admitting departments be congratulated or castigated? Are the people that pointed-out those numbers champions or chumps? I suppose it depends on which is more important; high admittance or high graduation?

    I see similarities between the two, and so look at the numbers to see how similar they are. It's not necessary to like the numbers, or even the messenger I suppose, but the numbers are what they are. I'm not trying to sell them, I'm not trying to get your money, I'm not trying to justify my salary. I just want our government and its appointees not to betray the public trust.

    It's up to the voters to decide how much spin they'll tolerate.

  9. Unfortunately, the DDA found out about the closing of Strawberry Moon the same time the public did. If the owners had reached out to the DDA prior to closing perhaps they could have helped. The DDA can only help businesses as much as they are willing to allow. They reach out and have many resources, but what can they do when a business doesn't ask for help? The businesses that support and connect to other businesses in Ferndale (including the DDA) are often the most successful. You cannot blame the DDA for an unsuccessful business plan or a poor market.

    Also, of course they are going to focus on the positive statistics. Can you blame them? 40 businesses opened in an economic recession, why shouldn't we celebrate that?

    Todd has a good point, 20% turnover isn't terrible. Typically, small business have a 50/50 chance of survival.

  10. They're probably finding out about the closing of House of Chants right about now, too.

    I wonder if the DDA does some kind of exit interview of owners closing businesses as employers will employees, to discover if there's anything they might have done, or if there's something they might do to help these businesses attract more customers.

    Where did you get the 50/50 number? Wouldn't that depend on the kind, location, and experience of the owner among other factors?

  11. It's a pretty well known statistic that across all industries, the average failure rate of small businesses in the first few years is pretty scary. Some rudimentary Googling lead to this chestnut:

    "According to a study by the U.S. Small Business Association, only 2/3 of all small business startups survive the first two years and less than half make it to four years."

  12. Furthermore, to clarify this for the record - The Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce is not a political organization, and we cannot take a stand on political issues nor can we encourage our members to. The best we could do in the Western Market situation is make our members aware of the facts, which we did. Cheers!