Tuesday, June 3, 2008

DBIA Follow-up

As promised, here is the response I received today from the Chairman of the Milton Downtown Business Improvement Area board:

Thank you Jennifer for your email. It has been a long standing agreement with the Chamber of Commerce to purchase these bump out spaces for merchants to come out into the market. Due to a tight budget for the 2008 year and very low business participation, the DBIA Board made the decision that the funds would be better spent elsewhere. It was a large expense that only two or three merchants took advantage of. Merchants are still able to put out tables against the storefront walls and windows if they wish. Or if you are friends with a store in the market area, people have been partnering up. You are right, we have a lot of completion [sic] to contend with now and we are trying new ways to attract people downtown. These decisions are made in the best interest of all the businesses downtown. Not just two or three.

I hope you continue to enjoy the market and the downtown shopping experience.


Glenn English
DBIA Chairman

I have verified at least one part of this explanation: very few merchants were taking advantage of these spaces, possibly because so few were willing to get up at 6:30 in the morning to set up a table. However, I suspect that at least part of the problem may lie with the DBIA failing to actively promote and offer the spaces to merchants who aren't on that particular stretch of Main St.

I am far more suspicious of the claim of budgetary restrictions. I know several store owners on Main Street and one person who was actually on the DBIA board until a couple of years ago, and they all say the same thing: the DBIA is awash in cash. They collect well over $100,000 dollars a year and only spend a fraction of it, resulting in an enormous and growing surplus. It's possible that this situation has changed drastically since my friend was on the board, but somehow I doubt it.

I'm not sure how far to push all this given that I'm not a downtown business owner and I shouldn't really know what I know. However, what I would like to know is this: if the DBIA feels the money would be better spent elsewhere, what exactly are they planning to spend it on that will reverse the exodus of customers from the downtown core? And to whom is the board accountable for how it spends the money it collects from merchants? Are their accounts and practises open to public scrutiny or only to its members?

Is all this none of my business?

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