Attitude Adjustment May Help Port's Downtown Thrive
Patch Columnist wonders what is needed to aid in leading this community out of its economic tar pit.
I had a wonderful friend, maybe the greatest ever.
Sloan died suddenly when he was forty years old. Boom! Gone. Bad genes.
Sloan had many fine qualities, but two were especially remarkable. He was loyal to his friends, and he was a great leader. Professionally, he led a team of hardware and software engineers charged with solving complex problems plaguing computer systems in the Pentagon, White House and other enterprises in the mid-Atlantic area. Privately, he threw outstanding parties of all sorts.
Loyalty and leadership combined to allow him to marshal his troops and get them all pulling in the same direction. It was a thing of beauty to behold. One thing he did was to make sure everyone understood that the stakes were very high.
"The president needs to know what’s going on," Sloan might say. "It's up to us to fix this by morning."
Of course, his team felt motivated — especially when he added, "After, we can all go for a dip in the quarry."
"I’ll bring the canoes," someone would chime in.
"I’ll bring the catapult," another would add. "We’ll launch a few watermelons."
Sloan was a work-hard, play-hard kind of guy, and it was contagious.
Here in Port Washington, we are faced with our own set of issues. While our city is loaded with charm, our downtown is not loaded with shoppers.
We have "events" such as this weekend's Pirate Fest and Fish Day that draw nice crowds for a day or two, but there isn’t a steady influx of visitors who think of Port Washington as a commercial destination.
Without a critical mass of shopper "traffic," everyone suffers — including restaurants, gas stations, hotels, shops, service businesses of all types and more.
As every savvy mall manager knows, a mall filled with the right mix of stores will also be filled with hoards of customers. A mall with vacant spaces is toast. I was a contributing editor to Retail Store Image Magazine for six years. I know the turf.
How do we get our downtown humming on a daily basis? How do we jumpstart our local economy? How do we revitalize Port Washington?
We pool our ideas. There are lots of smart people in Port Washington. Many are smart enough to know that in retail the success of one doesn’t detract from the success of the other — quite the contrary. If my business is growing, yours will come along for the ride. The battle cry should be "All for one and one for all."
Here’s another axiom, "If it isn’t working, try something else."
I’ll go out on a limb here and question a sacred cow.
When I attend Fish Day, for example, I see thousands of people eating fried food, swilling beer, listening to mostly mediocre music — and I don’t see them again until Fish Day next year. They could do these things almost anywhere in Wisconsin on a summer day.
It seems like a huge effort with marginal return on investment, plus it targets the wrong demographic. When I was in high school, Fish Day was the place to get hammered. From the look of things, it still is. If you shy away from brutal honesty, you have already read too far.
However, my point is, if we want to change our community, we will have to change ourselves, our thinking, or both. It’s time for some self-examination.
I ran the Cedarburg Chamber of Commerce for a while as Interim Executive Director. They had a crisis and asked me to do it. I treated it as a consulting gig, vowing to step aside when they found the right person. I knew going in that I could address the structural issues, but I am not an event planner, a major function of the job long-term. Six months was about all I was prepared for and, in truth, capable of.
Happily, Port Washington has a new chamber of commerce director who has the key skills for the job. For one thing, Dooley Vogel understands without reservation that success is a team effort. She can’t fix the Port Washington economy, but she can help orchestrate a collaborative effort that will get the job done if we all pitch in. It is a large challenge requiring the good will and hard work of the entire community.
After we all get the ball rolling, I suggest we have a world-class party.