Gatherings of New Hope business owners, like the open community meeting hosted by the New Hope Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 26, often serve as lightening rods for dissatisfaction, frustration, and rancor. But Wednesday night’s meeting of downtown New Hope merchants was notable as much for what didn’t happen, as what did.
Gone was the better part of the speechifying, arguing, listing of pet peeves and conflict so often on display at such meetings, and it its place was a relatively constructive and orderly proceeding that generated several noteworthy ideas and a loose consensus for continued cooperation to tackle business challenges.
Those challenges included discussion of improving parking accessibility, providing more consistent “local” discounts and hours of operation, using print and digital media to promote New Hope business, and ideas for new events to lure more visitors to the downtown commercial district. Sizable attendance by members of Borough Council and Chamber of Commerce directors attested to the level of pre-meeting buzz.
Co-organizers Linda Sghiatti of Clusters Bucks County Caramel Corn, and Bryan Montgomery of Three Cranes Gallery, were joined at the front of the room by Victoria Gialias of Victoria Hair Couture, and the trio ran a relatively tight ship.
Said Sghiatti in opening the gathering, “This meeting is about positive ideas to promote business and bring more people to town. Our goal is to organize and communicate.”
Montgomery said, “I’ve watched the foot traffic disappear over the years — there used to be cars backed all the way south to Waterworks waiting to get into town.”
Borough Council member Cliff Montgomery defended the borough’s revitalization efforts, saying “We are looking at a variety of new technologies to help address the parking issue.” One example listed by Montgomery, who also serves on the borough’s parking committee, is the adoption of new applications that allow visitors to pay for parking and receive space expiration alerts on their cell phone at an incremental cost.
Long-time New Hope insider Stephen Stahl said of merchant parking concerns, “You can have a pleasant place for people to shop, but at holiday time, if your meters aren’t bagged, you’re screwed. You’ve got to make sure your meters are bagged, and you’ve got to ask for the weekends, too — they can do without that money, you guys have paid your rent.”
Borough Council member Nick Gialias said of parking, “How many days is parking really a problem, right? I think it’s a small number of days. The bigger issue is that there aren’t more days where parking is a problem,” he asserted, noting that overcrowding in the commercial district is less of a frequent challenge than in the past.
Greg and Leslie Gauthier of Village Toy Shoppe spoke of their experiences transitioning from their prior location in Peddler’s Village to New Hope’s North Main Street. Said Greg Gauthier, “The basis of the conversation should be a standardized hours program in New Hope.”
“When you guys were at Peddler’s Village , did you like that?” asked one fellow merchant.
“No, responded Gauthier. “There’s a difference in being told what you have to do, but there has to be a standard, because what people are saying when they come to New Hope is ‘we’re not sure which stores are open'”
Donna Haviv of Savioni Boutique said, “The cardinal rule of retail is you’ve got to stay open. If you’re closed, you’re dead in the water. If you want to be in retail, open your door. Open it seven days a week. That’s the nature of the business.
“You can’t close at 3 p.m. because it’s raining,” she added.
New Hope Chamber Vice-President Jim Jolly spoke of that group’s efforts to boost business. “We’ve been focused in the past year on bringing tourist buses into town that could have 50 or 60 people each, coordinated with special discounts and tourist maps,” he explained.
Herb Millman, owner of Cockamamie’s and an organizer of Shops of North Main Street events, said, “We’re trying to bring people to town. We held an event for Labor Day, and Channel 10 covered it. We have a Halloween ‘spooktacular’ coming up for that holiday. We have a pre-holiday event scheduled for ‘black Friday.’ We’re having an adopt-a-pet event with the Bucks County ASPCA on Nov. 7.
“You can create an event to generate the buzz and attract a different group of people every month,” concluded Millman.
Addressing the gathering, Gauthier asked, “Is this meeting an opportunity for us to create a New Hope retail association, as opposed to paying into other associations?”
“As of right now, we’re not a merchant association,” responded Sghiatti. “We’re just a means of communication. It could evolve into an official association, but our goal is to continue to work with the Chamber, and bring our ideas to Borough Council.”
Earlier in the meeting, one attending council member quipped that “council had brought themselves to the meeting,” rankling at least one audience member.
“They’re so patronizing, that if I wasn’t a gentleman, I would have kicked his chair out,” said Stahl.
It was agreed that the group will schedule a follow-up meeting for November. Merchants with questions about the meeting or interested in getting involved can contact Linda Sghiatti at (215) 693-1137, or email Clusterscaramelcorn@gmail.com .