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Oh, to live in Silicon Valley where the people are smart and the wine is good; to live near brainy outdoorsy people with a passion for technology; to be surrounded by people who want everything from their socks to their spouses to be organic and free-range. To live in a town alive and busteling. Er, scratch that last part. In the past five years, I’ve watched my town, hit hard by recession and overlords, fall to the bare bones of small town business. It’s not that we’re without hope, we’re full of hope, but we’re also full of economic fear, distrust in our landowners and, most of all, frustrated by the very community we love to be a part of.
If I was the mayor of Willow Glen (not that we have one), I’d:
* Create a 3×3 Program. Loyalty is tough when finances are challenged. Everyone wants a deal, and I get that. I shop at Costco for my TP just like everyone else, but we, as a local community, from the leaders to the laypeople can participate in a one-year 3×3 program. The idea is to shop at three Willow Glen businesses three times per week. For me that would mean going to WG Coffee Roasting for my coffee a couple times, picking up a birthday card at Fleurish, getting a birthday gift at Treehouse in the Glen, meeting a friend at The Grapevine for a drink and getting takeout from Juquilita’s taqueria. It’s not hard, right? And how does this happen? People get 3×3 cards, get stamped when you hit each destination. After being a 3x3er 3 times, you get couponed for exclusive 30% off savings at a local store. Incentivize customers with 3×3 promos in town.
* Give the landowners a solid smack on the ass. It is one thing to treat business like business. It’s another to take down an entire community of small businesses owners during a recession and opt for empty store after store in lieu of short-term lease modifications. It’s important to stand your ground, make your money and be a true capitalist. But be an opportunist too. Give worthy businesses one-year lease bridges that allow for them to stay in business while you still can pay your land fees. Call it charity, call it community building, call the press, make your company full of capital and power also the company of the community. Let the retailers and leasers be your evangelists and in return, get more than rent, get loyal customers for life. Why? Because you were with them when the chips were down. Because you are part of Willow Glen. Because Willow Glen is a part of you.
* Get two anchor stores, one on either end of Lincoln Avenue. After my Go Local mantra, you’re wondering why I’d be pitching Big Business in our small town community. It’s the economy, stupid, as LeBush once said. We need to anchor our town with appropriate anchor stores that are designed to weather economic times and have the wiggle room to stand side-by-side with competitors. Los Gatos just added a JCrew. We need something like that here. Anthropologie ? Banana Republic? I’m not talking Target, here, I’m talking highly customizable corporate entities. I’d bet my comfy suburban house that an anchor store would bring more business to our local mom-and-pop shops.
* Fire the WG Business Association. Now this is going to get me in trouble. I don’t mean to be political; truly I don’t even get the politics in Willow Glen. The business association acts as a dysfunctional representative of the businesses in our town and worse, lacks understanding of what the people that shop at said businesses need. The business association should be experts at helping bridge the gaps between the two entities. I’d scratch the whole thing, fire everyone. Then I’d hire my buddy G to run it. G is a small business expert, an honest guy, a community organizer and certainly politically savvy enough to never write this post. With that, I’d create an organization joint-run by people and businesses, I’d the WG Elist for extremely valuable Community Recommendations (and only that), and I’d be on the frigging street talking to the community every single day in an endless effort to keep business flowing in our town. I’d create a Business Association that was of distinct and clear value to the community it serves.
There is a place in community building that involves loyalty, two-way communication and mutual respect. If I were Mayor of Willow Glen, I’d work my damnedest to cultivate all three. Bummer, there’s no such thing as Mayor of Willow Glen. We’ll have to leave the community building up to ourselves.