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September 19, 1995

A short while back I mentioned some of the things that were discussed as community assets and liabilities during a recent public forum sponsored by the Main Street Program. The purpose of that meeting was to get the ball rolling on Perry's first year as a participant in the program and to jot down strengths and weaknesses to provide a starting point for improvement.

I didn't attempt to record everything that was said that night, but you may be interested in hearing some of the negatives, even though they sound a little harsh, taken out of context. Remember, these were offered as legitimate complaints, not simply critical remarks. Someday there may be an opportunity to summarize everything that was kicked around at that meeting. If you weren't there, you should have been. Then you would have heard the dialogue in its entirety.

Two topics occupied a lot of the discussion -- parking problems and merchants' indifference to shoppers' needs.

Several individuals said that employees and business owners are using parking spaces at the front of their stores or offices, forcing customers to park some distance away. This has been a controversial matter here as long as I can remember. At least twice in the past the situation has been bad enough that the city has seriously considered taking steps to control it. Each time, the dreaded words "parking meters" crept into the discussion as a possible solution. Just the mention of those hated instruments was enough to solve the problem. Let's don't go through that ordeal again.

Yes, it's true that in a small town like ours shoppers are miffed if they have to walk a few steps, while in the big cities they think nothing of walking several blocks to reach a favorite store. Off street parking would help. But, merchants and office people should be considerate of their patrons and not park vehicles in the choice spots all day long.

Another point mentioned was the failure of some Perry stores to stock certain kinds of merchandise after agreeing to add things specifically requested by customers, or to be agonizingly slow in putting them in inventory. This alienates shoppers and gives them another reason to drive to one of our friendly neighboring towns for what they want. Some also said Perry clerks are often rude or indifferent to shoppers.

Merchants also have a perspective on this. It's not possible for Perry stores to carry everything you see in the bigger cities. Some of those who complained said, however, that they had been personally told by a merchant that a certain item would soon be available in his/her shop, only to find that after weeks of waiting it was not going to happen. Good way to lose customers.

I'm reporting these things not to make our local business people look bad, but because some who were not at the meeting expressed interest in what was said. Let's don't get bogged down wrangling about who said what, and why. That's a certain highway to stalemate and inaction. Remember, the forum brought out a whole lot of good things about our town, too. Perhaps we can list a few of those another time.

One of the most positive things to emerge from our embryonic Main Street Program is the willingness of at least four property owners in the downtown area to have their business buildings renovated during this initial year of participation. To me that indicates a very serious desire on the part of this little community to start moving forward. There will be baby steps at first, but in time we will have the momentum to do wonderful things. Then watch the list of "assets" grow longer while our so-called "liabilities" shrink.