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The Future of Main Street Investigative Report
Part III 97mar30

"Sensing That Things aren’t Right, We Squabble
But Can We Identify Why?"

by: Horace Corbin, Publisher

For the last nine months, our downtown business development initiatives have stalled in debate between the principle players; Main Street, the Special Improvement District (SID), the Chamber of Commerce, and the Town Council. Strong feelings and anxiety have developed as the parties sense that things aren’t quite right. Each, of course has their own perspective. We’re inching forward toward approval of the SID budget next month under an uneasy truce.

In the background, forces are at work to squelch the Main Street Program. Counter forces are at work to clip the wings of the Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, Town government is nervously dealing out the cards. SID is scrambling in the center, trying to figure out how to do their upcoming job. Hundreds of volunteers are on the sidelines asking what to do, which way to go, and with whom. Businesses see more taxes coming. To avoid all out battle, which none wants; concessions, compromises and realignment are occuring over issues of power, control, and spending.

No smiling faces can be seen.

This editorial has been delayed for several days in the mind of this writer; although, it is plausible to acclaim that the circumstances are the result of petty bickering, selfish interests, short sighted business views, power plays and personality clashes. It makes for a good story. But it can’t be told that way because, it isn’t true. There are too many good leaders, good organizations and good people involved. All have the basic desire; "Making Westfield The Best That It Can Be - While Providing for Their Own Survival and Well Being".

Our newspaper is in the center of the communication network, interacting with hundreds of people from the town at our office, conducting thousands of local business transactions, reporting on meetings, receiving E-mail, Faxes and Telephone calls and interacting on the Internet. In this maze are the clues for unraveling the Downtown Business Development Dilemma - "But where is it?, If we could only see it!"

Several unrelated events this week stirred me to believing I see part of it - like being clobbered by Newton’s apple. It’s still fuzzy, but it’s quickly coming into focus. It needs to be refined by those with greater expertise and knowledge of the subject than I. Still, the essence can be portrayed by describing some recent events and postulating a summary for those on the firing line to consider - then, perhaps they can carry forward.

The events were;

a. The Wesfield Post Office saves the day.

b. The Banana Republic is coming.

c. Spring brings shoppers, but downtown is inundated with trash.

Westfield Post Office Saves the Day:

Our newspaper experienced one of our most feared events this Thursday morning at 2-3 a.m.; the printing press seized during the run, scrambling everything including the mailing labels and sorting of bundles. Everyone jumped into action, independently acting as best they could in compensation - the biggest need was to get the papers to the post offices by 4 a.m.

I arrived at the Westfield Post Office, our largest point of departure, at 7 a.m. to see how bad the situation was. The counter man confirmed my fears. Many of the papers arrived without mailing labels and the carrier route bundles were largely unsorted. I asked if I could inspect the scope of the mess. He looked at me calmly, then said, "Oh, they’re already out with the carriers on the way for delivery. Everyone did the best they could. Expect some phone calls because the crew is not sure that they will be able to fix everything". Then he handed me a bundle of papers saved for us as an example of what happened. I was too stunned and relieved to say anything but thank you.

One of the postal workers stopped in our office Saturday morning during his time off. He said he was sorry to interrupt, but could we give him the date of our annual "This is Westfield" mailing - they want to get ready.

There’s something very important here. The US Postal Service is the largest business in the world with more regulations, bureaucracy and union agreements than anyone. Do you know that in Westfield, the Postal Workers collect and distribute tons of food each year for the poor. They won’t accept money donations so as to be absolutely clear that there are no questions introduced about the validity of their volunteer work. I thank them again (and Scotch Plains too).

The Banana Republic (BR) is coming:

By way of third party, this newspaper received a copy of a letter from the President of the Banana Republic (part of Gap, Inc.) addressed to Westfield Main Street. It congratulated Main Street on their fine work on "Save the Rialto" and on other Westfield projects; and, in part due to Main Street recruiting, they are pleased to announce their decision to open a store in Westfield.

The Gap and Gap Junior enjoy success in the downtown Westfield business district. As national retailers, they can be good business partners and add value to our community. Now, here comes the Banana Republic. So why is there anxiety, particularly in view of their cooperation on "Save the Rialto". We’ll address our view of this in the summary of this editorial.

Spring brings shoppers, but downtown is inundated with trash:

Good Friday was a wonderful spring day. So was most of Saturday. As hoped, many shoppers (families, kids, out of towners) visited downtown. It was nice. Our coffee shops and deli’s refreshed them during their stroll. Our trash receptacles filled and overflowed to the streets. Microbes, equally happy with the day and the feast, joined in the frolic - contributing in their own odiferous way.

I interrupted writing this article to put our office trash receptacles and spare trash bags out on Quimby and Elm Streets. Most of the local shops did not have suitable trash receptacles to assist. They did, however, have suitable words for the trash pickup planning. We located the major microbe colonies and bagged them. Fortunately, a thunderstorm at 5 p.m. Saturday dispersed the crowd and washed debris to the storm sewers. Now, it’s another nice day on Easter Sunday, downtown here on Quimby and Elm.


1. Westfield needs more businesses with dedication as demonstrated by our Post Office, in that their people and management care and participate in the infrastructure of our society - not coerced, just understand and the moves are natural.

2. The Chamber of Commerce has a good point. Their members will be taxed by the SID. Some of this money will be shuffled to the marketing efforts of Main Street, upon which national retailers move in. Rents go up and threaten to put some Chamber members out of business. Many Chamber businesses sponsor local clubs, societies, advertise in our newspaper, buy Rescue Squad tickets and many other things; at a cost but of vital important to our town. Ask a national retailer for this support and you get "sorry, we’re a big company and it’s corporate policy not to........". Are they bigger than the Post Office? The largest retailer in our town is very prosperous, Lord and Taylor. Where do they stand on community and infrastructure support?

3. Main Street has a good point. We need a selected mix of national retailers along with the local proprietorships so as to be attractive to area shoppers and to fill our vacancies.

4. SID has a good point. As our business booms, how do we deal with the trash?

Westfield has an opportunity to define the Downtown Business Template embracing the needs of the Community, guiding desired national businesses into the fold, and empowering our volunteers (a true strength). It’s smart business for national and local firms to understand and to participate.

With minor adjustment to what we have in-place, Town government, the SID, Main Street, The Chamber of Commerce, good National Retailers and local proprietorships can work together.

What do you think?

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader.
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