Opinion

Let's not forget to welcome newcomers

In the discussions and public meetings being sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on the issue of tourism, some points are being missed, I think.

While it’s admirable to set up focus groups and public planning sessions on lots of issues, asking the public to weigh in on the decisions of individual business owners isn’t appropriate. I believe there has been a real blurring of that line in the last few years.

Was there a community vote to open the Hardware Store Restaurant? No. Were we asked if we wanted the lumber company to expand into a huge new huge building? No. Did Thriftway do focus groups to decide how we wanted them to expand? No. Have surveys been taken to decide who should rent out the stores in the Fuller Building? No. These are business decisions made by the owners of these businesses based on their perception of the community’s needs. So it follows that decisions about increased or different marketing strategies to benefit a segment of the merchants need not be open to public debate.

Another concern is that of the role of a Chamber of Commerce. I believe it is to represent the business community and to help them prosper. While a segment of our merchants, like the gift shops, restaurants, B&Bs and antique and art stores are affected by tourism, the remaining businesses are not. Tourists don’t come to

have their hair cut or buy lumber or hardware.

They rarely look

for a dentist or a seamstress. None of them has their taxes done here or even take advantage of our many acupuncturists or attorneys.

My point is that there are more than a thousand businesses licensed here (really) and most would benefit by more emphasis on building the local buyer clientele. The December open house and coupon event is the only one that comes to mind that introduces residents to merchants they may be unaware of. It’s a good event, but more is needed.

I have often suggested having a Welcome Wagon for new residents. People have laughed at that and told me that this is 1950s thinking.

But I can’t tell you how often I hear people, even those who have lived here for years, say, “I had no idea we had that kind of store here.” Or, “Did you know our local business actually charges less for this than the big stores in the city?”

Without a major Web presence and even face-to-face greeters passing out discount coupons and gifts from local merchants and businesses, where will newcomers learn what we have to offer?

There is an influx and outflow of about 200 families a year here. Those are consumers, folks. It’s easy for them to shop over town where they work or go to the big box stores in the city over the weekend, especially if they don’t perceive that they can get their goods here and for a competitive price.

Most towns I visit have a chamber office right in the center of town where tourists can get maps, find a restroom and get directions. We need that here! The real estate offices have to do that for the chamber now, by default. Yes, most newcomers have been visitors at some time in the past and, therefore, might someday become a buyer. However, as a real estate broker located in the center of town, I wouldn’t mind passing on the dozens of requests for these services every day in the summer to a nearby Chamber of Commerce storefront. We try to always be gracious about it, of course. While we’re at it, a manned kiosk near the ferry dock with maps and directions would be a big help too.

So, although I think that the tourist related businesses probably should be talking to each other about how to maximize their marketing, I think the job of the chamber should be focused on building all of the businesses on the Island by offering more opportunities for our residents to learn about the merchants and service sector businesses that serve our community.

—Emma Amiad is a buyer’s broker on Vashon.

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