An essential element to a thriving community is a healthy business climate for the small retailers, restaurants and other offices that provide local services. These local businesses bring “Main Street” to life, provide local employment and are often the first to support local youth and senior activities.
This weekend is the annual Festival by the Sea, an event sponsored by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, that showcases what our local shops offer along with booths displaying local artwork and crafts. This fun event presents a great opportunity to show your support for our local businesses.
I am a proud graduate of “Hardware U”, having worked in my father’s small hardware store all through middle and high school. It was a great education – not only in do-yourself-skills but also in customer service and the challenges of running a small business. Competition from the big box stores was ongoing. What we could not offer in price we made up with personalized service and our connections with the community.
This was before the explosion of on-line buying which has made it all that more difficult for local businesses to thrive. It is worth remembering that the initial convenience of ordering from home can easily be lost through the hassle of not getting what you thought you were and trying to return it. With more and more local shops offering on-line convenience you can get the best of both worlds.
The pandemic has only added to the challenges local businesses face. Both state and federal support has helped counter some of the loss businesses have had to endure. In conjunction with Essex, Manchester was awarded a technical assistance grant through the state’s Rapid Recovery Program. Business owners, town staff and residents have been meeting to identify improvements to the village core area to make shopping more attractive as well as promotional activities to draw residents into our local shops. In addition, the Cape Ann Chamber was awarded grant funds for a series of promotional efforts, including helping businesses boost their on-line presence. Both efforts are well underway and producing good results. More detailed recommendations from the Rapid Recovery Program will be announced soon.
As noted in last week’s edition of The Cricket, ease of parking and available public restrooms, have long been missing in town. Both have been identified again as priority needs by local business owners. With thanks to the First Parish Church and Jim Brown, manager of the building housing Cape Ann Savings Bank and other shops and offices, we will be able to provide a walkway linking the large parking lot behind Town Hall to Beach Street. And along this walkway, we are adding temporary public restrooms for the remainder of the summer and into the fall. Funding for this effort is coming from the Town’s share of the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) that Congress approved. We also hope to install a temporary restroom in the parking lot at Harbor Point, across from Reed Park.
The heightened desire for public facilities and the growing role that the harbor plays in the economic vitality of the Town likely will prompt taking a second look at options for a permanent home for public restrooms combined with a waterfront office for the Harbormaster.
These efforts are in addition to the temporary outdoor dining that was allowed in parking spaces (and continues to be allowed on the sidewalks) and COVID related grants made available to local shopkeepers.
The pandemic and its lingering challenges have put a real strain on our local businesses. They need your patronage now more than ever. The silver lining here is that the crisis has demanded that we take a hard look at ways to improve our small business district and to start making improvements that will help local shops thrive in the future. We all win when this happens.
You have many choices regarding where and how you spend your dollars. Spending them locally yields many positive dividends that go beyond the value of the initial purchase.