the ypsi chamber and how to fix it

We just received the following post at the YpsiVotes site and I thought that I’d copy it here, so that more people had an opportunity to see it and comment. It comes from Mark Swanson of the Terry Bakery:

I along with my wife, brother-in-law, and (his) wife are the owners of Terry Bakery. We bought the business and property about 7plus years ago. About 6 months after we bought the A2News wrote an article about the resurgence of investment in Downtown Ypsilanti. I vaguely remember the article saying something like in the last 6 mos. -18 properties had changed hands, there was a listing of the new businesses that had gone in (Wicked Micky’s, Country on the Avenue, DaLats, BW3’s, Us, etc…). The article was positive and full of enthusiasm for Downtown Ypsilanti. Since that time we have seen businesses come and go -and God Bless them -Stay! In that time – I’ve seen and thought a lot about what has gone on, what mistakes were made, how to correct mistakes and find solutions, how organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the CBC (Central Business Community), the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) could and should be improved. My purpose here is not to blame anyone (although I may have a critical opinion) but to rehash my subjective outlook on the past and the way these organizations have operated and suggest how they are improving and might continue to change and improve. Enough Preamble! Onward!

First Subject:

The Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce: You will never find a more continually positive person about the future of the Greater Ypsilanti Area than Keith Peters. He speaks positively about the future of Ypsilanti and defends us to the hilt (i.e., the USA Today article). He and his wife shop locally, and both have lived and worked in the town forever. That said, I feel there is a disconnect between the small independent businesses downtown and throughout the city of Ypsilanti for the following reasons:

1) Few people that I can relate to on the board. What do I mean? The board members year after year consist of every bank in town, representatives of government (city and township), 2-3 people representing EMU, Utilities (YCUA), big business (Briarwood, Waste Treatment Companies, etc…), with the occasional local lawyer thrown in. Many of these people do not live in Ypsilanti. I do not say that they should not be on the board-but I dare say that very few of them over the years have popped their heads into many of the shops downtown or interact with the independent merchants or businesses downtown other than the occasional chamber member seeking a loan at a bank or at the Chamber Gala.

2) This leads to the fact that there is a Disconnect between Chamber and Downtown Businesses other than when you are solicited for a Chamber Membership. We belonged to the Chamber the first two years we were in business. Than we started to ask: what are we getting for our membership? The answer was that we were listed in the directory, listed on the website, a suggestion that Chamber members are more likely to buy from Chamber Members, Invitations to the Golf Outing Fundraiser and the Gala for a price, an Insurance Program, and a few savings with some other businesses. The bottom line for us was that 250-300 dollars was a lot of money to be one of several hundred businesses listed on a website/directory, didn’t have time or money for the Golf or Gala, had an Insurance Program, other businesses were more interested in the value of our services and products than if we were Chamber Members.

Thoughts and Solutions

I feel that the Chamber should be a Vanguard in helping Businesses in Ypsilanti (and not just Downtown). The Chamber is and should be trying to bring Big Business to the Area-but they should also promote small independent businesses that exist now.

I suggest the Chamber do the following:

1) Expand the Board: this suggestion was given to me by Ed Clemente (now State Rep. Clemente) who was the in Charge of the DownRiver Chamber of Commerce. Keep your Executive Board full of your lawyers, Bankers, University Administrators, and Politicians- but put some merchants and small independent business people who pay their own way more directly out of their own pocket. Give us a voice with representation. I have been told that if I am a Chamber Member that I cannot go to a board meeting and speak or comment. I hope this is not true.

2) Develop a business plan and a budget that helps Ypsilanti Small Businesses. Take part of our dues and use that for advertising the diversity, the variety and vibrancy of business in Ypsilanti. I want a bang for my buck. This last year we gave the money we would use for a Chamber Membership to the CBC for the Concerts Downtown.

Enough on the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce-On to other thoughts and institutions later.

Mark Swanson

[The image of the Terry Bakery’s very cool sign comes from this site.]

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One Comment

  1. egpenet
    Posted November 27, 2006 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Excellent comments. The Ypsi Chamber has been bled for two decades by the A2 folk for good ideas and businesses willing to relocate to the area. “Come to A2, don’t go to Ypsi, it’s lower class.”

    Well, business peoplee, chuck the lawyers, bankers and local pols … trust the shoppers and neighbors who live just blocks from your doors … provide the goods and services we desire and you” develop a faithful following. We LIVE here. We have leases and mortgages HERE … not A2. Our children SCHOOL here. Our youngwer brothers, sisters, cousins and neices go to college HERE.

    We applaud your trust and investment in OUR neighborhoods, downtown/Depot Town and Cross Street. We will support you.

    Start a NEW Chamber … OUT with the old/in with the NEW, as they say. DUMP the pols, the old timey lawyers, the OLD GUARD. We have a new mayor, we have new, younger and in-tune council people, and we’re moving ahead without all those folks who abandoned the city over the years. We welcome you and will spend our bucks with you.

    Buy local, all …

    So, organize your own local group and dump that old chamber, DDA, Convention Bureau … they don’t help us … and obviously they don’t help YOU!

    Applause for Terry Bakery,

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