Old Town businesses shift focus to long-term sustainability
Five new businesses help revive Takoma Park commercial district
Following the recent boom of new shops filling up the once vacancy-strewn commercial district, the Old Takoma Business Association has shifted its focus to ensure the market survives the ongoing recession.
Since the association's last community meeting in February, five new businesses have announced plans to open in several cases some already have in the commercial district that extends from Fourth Street in Washington, D.C., north along Carroll Avenue to the Takoma Junction in Takoma Park, Md. While business leaders once gathered to daydream wistfully of the anchor stores they would like to see open, now the talk is of increased signage, mass sales promotions and other ideas for sustainability.
At an OTBA meeting last week in the soon-to-open Capital City Cheesecake café on Carroll Avenue, Executive Director Roz Grigsby highlighted the importance of keeping a step ahead of the recession, despite the group's latest successes.
"We have to be careful not to get complacent," she said. "It's not just about filling vacancies; it's about filling vacancies with thriving businesses."
Among the ideas brainstormed at the meeting included a renewed effort to attract consumers from outside walking distance in the city, namely by using additional signs promoting shops in the junction along the stretch of residential houses that separate the junction from the more business-dense old town closer to the metro.
OTBA member Rocco Casagrande mentioned an impromptu fire-spinning performance he witnessed near the gazebo at Westmoreland and Carroll avenues April 20 and the impact it had on passersby.
"It attracted a crowd of about 10 people, but it also caught the attention of a lot of people at Roscoe's [pizzeria] and others walking by," he said. "I noticed them looking around after the performance, seeing all the nearby businesses. ... A lot of them made their way to Summer Delights for ice cream."
Although the city of Takoma Park hosts its fair share of events each year, only the Street Festival in early October actively seeks to draw consumers to OTBA's focus area, said Grigsby, who thinks more can be done to capitalize on the draw of impromptu events in the district.
"The impromptu things are lovely, and if you're already here it might slow you down, but I think there's another type of event we're looking for that will bring people in," she said. "Partly for the kid stuff and free music and that kind of thing, and then probably it will have some ripple effect where [passersby] decide they need to get some lunch and head to a local restaurant."
Meaghan Murphy, who will open the Capital City Cheesecake with her sister, Caitlin Murphy, next Saturday, brought a unique perspective to the meeting. She suggested businesses design a punch card that shoppers could take to earn points from purchases at a number of local shops that would be redeemable at the café for a free cheesecake or elsewhere for a similar bonus.
Neighborhood activist Roger Schlegel mentioned decorating benches and fire hydrants along the business distract and even "flash mob" promotional events, like having a pre-arranged but seemingly random dance in a public area of the district.
"I want to do a flash mob chess tournament," he said with a grin. "But we could think of others."
Local business owner or just concerned resident? Have an idea that could help keep your hometown businesses thriving? Get involved with the OTBA's Economic Restructuring Committee. For more information, visit the group's website at www.mainstreettakoma
.org or call 240-253-4229.