Alexandria: Letter to the Editor: City Should Talk to Businesses

Alexandria: Letter to the Editor: City Should Talk to Businesses

To the Editor:

I agree with Jody Manor’s thoughtful and accurate Letter to the Editor in last week’s paper regarding the sudden impetus to regulate the use of A-frame signs on Old Town streets.

The city administrators’ and legislators’ tone-deafness to the needs of small, independent businesses in Alexandria becomes painfully apparent when dealing with topics like this. I have had a business in the city for 11 years, and, with few exceptions, don’t feel that that the positive impact the boutiques and restaurants lining our streets have on the ambiance of Alexandria has been adequately acknowledged and appreciated by city officials and organizations. After all, along with the historical pedigree of the city, the variety and uniqueness of these businesses are a huge part of what drives Alexandria’s regular inclusion in the “top 100 cities” or “most livable cities” lists the city seems to covet.

Sadly, on a recent drive up King Street I counted 18 empty storefronts in just the confines of Old Town. That is not the example of a healthy and thriving city business center, but a symptom of a very challenging business atmosphere. I would think that this would be of concern to city councilors as well as the mayor and city administrators — surely they must be aware that the situation needs to be addressed, mustn’t they? I know I often wonder what benefits businesses here receive from the taxes and licensing fees we pay yearly. We’ve never even been able to get a trash can on South Pitt Street (where my store is located). In my view, the city is not maintained to the level it should be, and a BID is not the answer. We already pay a premium.

Talking to business owners individually might be a way for councilors and administrators to get some insights about our challenges. Forget the bureaucratic “task forces” as well as the ridiculously expensive out-of-town consultants frequently brought in. Split up council members, administrators and staff and visit on a one-to-one basis the owners who run the businesses which help to make our city unique. Committees and task force meetings are not always able to be attended by sole proprietors, nor have they ever been particularly productive, in my experience. They actually need to look at our stores, get out in the field and listen to our concerns. This would benefit everyone.

One thing they would definitely discover would be that the A-frame signs are a powerful way for our businesses to let customers know where we are, what our offerings are, and what specials we have on any given day. They give the city personality as well as providing a service. People comment on a daily basis how important the sign we have at the corner of King and Pitt was in getting them to my store, which is on a side street. We also like to put out an a-frame by the store with information on sales, etc. I won’t even go into the fight which had to be waged with the city to get the signs officially approved. The OK on using these signs finally came in 2008 in a brief window of time when it seemed that the city was actually beginning to listen to our needs. However, the hope was dashed as we soon had to re-mobilize to fight proposed increases in parking fees and more business taxes. Why is it that any proposals coming from council regarding businesses either involve more regulation, more taxes or imposing more fees?

The issue of sign safety, as Jody says, is a non-starter. The signs are the least dangerous things on the sidewalks, and as he mentioned, I have had people come into my store after doing a face-plant on one of the uneven and missing bricks, or roots coming up and taking over the walking spaces. In fact, both my husband and I have had the misfortune of falling on the bricks. If the city has somehow avoided being sued for injury I am shocked.

Have all the real problems and challenges of the City of Alexandria been successfully resolved? So much so, that the biggest “problem” for city administrators and council members to “solve” is something that actually promotes business and costs Alexandria nothing?

Cindy McCartney


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