New Hope business owners don’t gather as a collective group very often, but when they do, the result is frequently contentious, and Tuesday’s Chamber of Commerce-sponsored “community meeting” didn’t vary from the script.
Chamber President Roger Green managed the meeting well from the start, summarizing the organization’s objectives for the evening and inviting his board members to introduce themselves to the audience. The tactic was effective, as it humanized board members and made their perceived challenge of unrecognized toil more sympathetic to fellow business owners.
Green went on to describe what he saw as some of the chamber’s significant accomplishments this year, including the Monroe Crossing event earlier this summer, the introduction of tighter financial controls, the development of a mission statement, and the elimination of the chamber’s controversial year-end parties. He also told attendees of plans by the chamber to retake control of the visitors’ center, seek out partnering opportunities with the Bucks County Playhouse, and reconsider continuing fireworks shows next year, albeit on a possibly less-frequent basis, and tying the event in more closely with New Hope’s overall marketing effort, such as it is.
While attendees seemed to appreciate the presentation, many were there to express their personal perspective on what they saw as key problems facing the New Hope business community: the discontinuation of Friday Night Fireworks in 2014, continuation of the controversial “Rev it Down” campaign, scheduling of large events that don’t drive visitors downtown, and other grievances accumulated over the years.
Green defended the chamber’s cancellation of fireworks this year, explaining that 70% of those polled were not in favor of their continuation. He also pledged to make large events like the Arts and Crafts festival, held annually at the High School, more relevant and beneficial to downtown businesses.
Other business owners extolled the virtues of the more nuts-and-bolts tourism efforts of the past, like distribution of brochures, cable TV advertising, and other eclectic, low-cost marketing methods. When asked what methods the chamber was currently using to leverage social media, a board member responded weakly that the chamber will update its website soon and that they have been posting more frequently on Facebook lately.
Other business owners also associated with New Hope’s Eagle Volunteer Fire Company expressed dissatisfaction with the possible continuation of fireworks shows next year, asserting that they pose a fire control hazard in New Hope’s crowded streets.
Another business owner and former chamber official spoke of the problem caused by employees of New Hope businesses utilizing public parking spaces. Still another merchant and member of New Hope Borough Council in attendance suggested that all chamber of commerce meetings be open to non-members, a concept that could do much to draw the perennial heat away from future business gatherings and serve as a recruiting device for the chamber.
Attendance was solid, with what appeared to be greater representation by businesses from the north side of town, as opposed to South Main Street, where several big-name businesses were notably absent.
When all was said and done, no significant consensus was reached among meeting planners and attendees — then again, that was not expected. What was achieved was that New Hope businesses were clearly heard by those who represent them, although that venting at times was unfortunately rude and discourteous.
Nonetheless, business owners, often isolated by the nature of their livelihood, were able to meet and hear fellow merchants’ opinions, peeves, and sometimes highly worthwhile observations. They came to tell chamber leaders how they could be served better by the organization, and the chamber’s response was generally, “join, and help us get it done.”
In fact, the chamber added 15 new volunteers to help its committees at the meeting, including five new “block captains” — a significant achievement in itself.
But perhaps those attending Tuesday’s meeting in search of ways to bring more visitors back to New Hope had no further to look than the windshields of their cars, where yellow parking tickets served as their reward for volunteering to better the borough (there remains some disagreement over exactly how many were cited).
Some may argue that meeting organizers could have done more to explain the parking rule, but ticketing community members for attending a community meeting at a community facility, while ill-considered, is at least less destructive to New Hope’s economy than the Borough’s historically aggressive parking policies toward visitors.
To their credit, chamber officials have offered to pay parking fines of meeting attendees who feel unfairly treated.