At the request of merchants in Franklin, the Town Board of Aldermen hosted an informal meeting to open dialogue between the town and its merchants. During the November meeting of the Town Board, several downtown merchants addressed the board to express their frustration and discontent with the lack of communication between town officials and downtown merchants.
Mayor Joe Collins called a meeting to hear from both sides in order to reach an agreement and find common ground for the betterment of Franklin.
Alderman Sissy Patillo, who serves with Alderman Joyce Handley as a liaison to Franklin's Main Street Program, opened the conversation by asking the merchants in attendance what they wanted. “After you spoke at the last meeting, we know you have concerns, but I am not sure what you want,” said Patillo. “I am not sure what you are asking us for.”
Co-owner of Outdoor 76 Rob Gasbarro and other merchants responded by saying that the merchants simply wanted better communication between the two entities.
Franklin's Main Street Program is a state sanctioned program that operates on behalf of the town with the intention of promoting the economic vitality of the district. Local business owners want to be able to work with the Main Street Program to promote the downtown area.
According to Handley, business owners could have been attending the Main Street Program meetings, but have failed to do so. The merchants informed the board that it is difficult to know when the Main Street Program meets and what their monthly agendas are.
Handley said she was not aware that the meeting times and locations were not advertised and suggested that in the future, the meetings be publicized on the town's website. Summer Woodward, assistant to the Town Manager, said that she believed that was doable.
“I think that is a great solution to open communication and be able to include the downtown merchants in what the Main Street Program is doing,” said Handley.
Janice Cummings, who owns Creative Framing on Depot Street and sits on the Main Street Program board, voiced her appreciation as a merchant for all the Main Street Program does. “This isn't just a Main Street issue, this is a power struggle,” said Cummings. “When one of us falters, and one of us goes under, it takes a little chunk of the solidarity of the entire town.”
Gasbarro reiterated his concern and need for open communication by saying while he has the greatest respect for all the businesses in the Main Street District, which includes Highlands Road, Depot Street and Main Street, he believes the focus should be on the heart of the downtown economy. “This hill, this is what people drive here from Florida, Atlanta and everywhere else, this is what they come to see,” said Gasbarro. “A lot of the programs and activities are meant to happen on Main Street and we need to be a big part of what goes on, and we have been no part.”
Lindsey Kent, Rosebud Cottage Chef, suggested that the Main Street Program establish a check list of ordinances for the downtown merchants to allow business owners who want to hold events separate from the big events such as PumpkinFest or Winter Wonderland.
Sandy Pantaleo, owner of Main Street Coffee and Tea, agreed with Kent. “I think the reason Venture Local or other groups have come about is because while Linda is doing a great job with the festivals like PumpkinFest and the Scottish Tartan Festival, we all love that, but I think we all felt the need for more, said Pantaleo. We wanted more, we need our businesses to grow.”
Linda Schlott, executive director of the Main Street Program said that is is possible for events like StreetFest, which was organized by Venture Local and Streets of Franklin, to be under the Main Street umbrella and to continue as festivals with the help of the Main Street Program.
Patillo told the merchants that if they wanted to hold individual events, they could as long as proper procedure was followed. “You can go do those festivals as long as you come to the Main Street Program first to follow the proper steps,” said Patillo.
Bonnie Pickartz, owner of Goshen Timber Frames and member of Venture Local Franklin, informed Patillo that Schlott attended one Venture Local meeting and at that meeting the plans for StreetFest were laid out. “Sissy, Linda was at our first planning meeting for StreetFest and there was no conversation about what we needed to do. We figured that out on our own. We went to her to make sure it didn't conflict with anything else, we went to Derek Roland about the banner and it was approved, we contacted Sam about it, everything we did was approved,” said Pickartz. “We invited Linda to every meeting, so at any point, she could have taken it back.”
Mayor Collins brought the meeting back together and said, “Irrespective, we have at least this season, a different animal in the Main Street concept,” said Collins. “We, as a board, need to establish what we believe is appropriate.”
Gasbarro said the only way to determine if the Main Street Program and the merchants will be able to come together and work in unison for the betterment of Franklin is to try. Both entities went away from the meeting with the understanding that all the merchants interested are invited to attend the next Main Street Program, which is tentatively scheduled for January.
To view a full video of the meeting, visit Bobby Coggins' blog at http://thunderpigblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/franklin-merchants-meet-with-town.html.