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Coastal Voices: How to save downtown's BID

By Bob Berkowitz

It was a frightening sight. Businesses in the Third Street corridor were closing in droves. Bistrin's and Daly's had left the community and WalMart was forcing small mom and pop establishments to either get more efficient or go out of business. BC's Paints & Sundries, Parson's, Redwood Office Supply, North Country Realty and Cece's had one thing in common: They were going to lock their doors for good or already had done so

By 1992 many downtown merchants had seen the handwriting on the wall, and they decided to do something about a very bad business climate. This group decided to band together and form the Business Improvement District. Their goal was to revitalize downtown businesses and utilize the city as a partner. They would hold common promotions that would bring people into the area to shop. They would hold regular meeting at Glen's Restaurant and Bakery where all members would have a say in the various types of promotions.

It was a brilliant idea that, unfortunately, never worked as well as it could have. For one thing, the money was just not there on a consistent basis to do all of the promotions that could have turned the tide. The city had agreed to do the billing but there was really no way they could force businesses to participate in this voluntary program.

In addition, some businesses thought that the city had no business being a part of profit-making enterprises. Like many endeavors, after about a year, the enthusiasm began to wear off and fewer and fewer merchants were attending the meetings.

Now there seems to be an impetus to revitalize the Business Improvement District. So, in that spirit, I have a few suggestions:

•Expand to all city businesses – To be viable, the BID should be open to all businesses operating in Crescent City. This would expand the base and give the organization access to many more potential members. Auxiliary memberships could be offered to non-profits and government offices.

•Find someone new to administer the district – The primary question BID members need to ask themselves, "Is the city the best entity to administer the program?" I would suggest that the BID members investigate the possibility of partnering with the Chamber of Commerce. Most are chamber members anyway and the Chamber of Commerce could easily handle the billing and help plan promotions. This would be a better fit than partnering with the city.

•Have a good answer for the self-serving question, "What's in it for me?" Here is where the city could have a role. The BID could make up a brochure promoting each member business and have the city distribute it to all new residents as they sign up for water service. The BID could arrange for that same brochure to be put in the Welcome Packet that is distributed to people new to Del Norte County as they are called on by the Del Norte Welcome Service (Full disclosure here – My wonderful and loving wife Katie owns the Del Norte Welcome Service).

There are people who are hard at work with the sole objective of helping make Crescent City businesses more responsive to your wants and needs. They give of their time so that you'll have a more pleasant shopping experience. People like Roberta Young, owner of Glen's Restaurant and Bakery, Diana Tomasini, owner of Enoteca Restaurant and Debby Stover, owner of Del Norte Office Supply to name a few, go the extra mile to ensure the success of the downtown businesses.

On a cold snowy day in January 1962, President John F. Kennedy implored us to "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

Today we have BID merchants who would change that quotation to say, "ask not what your city can do for you, but what you can do for your city."

Let's do our part to help the BID help us be better consumers.

Reach Bob Berkowitz, a Crescent City resident and businessowner: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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