Mike Schwartz, editor of the online Elizabethtown Journal, recently forwarded an e-mail from a resident who had questions about businesses in downtown Elizabethtown. Mike asked me if I would respond, and he posted the comments on the Journal's site along with his own thoughts and commentary.
At about the same time, David Moulton and Daniel Klotz, who host and produce the podcast The Lancast, interviewed Ryan and Dawn Bracken, the proprietors of Folklore Coffee & Co. about opening, running and maintaining a business in downtown Elizabethtown. In listening to the interview, I was impressed with their commitment to Elizabethtown and to the downtown.
The attention on the borough's business district is great, and I think that Mike Schwartz makes an excellent point in his comments that Elizabethtown needs to find a niche. Further, for the downtown to succeed, it must exploit that niche. Let me offer comments on his four suggestions:
(1) Convene a committee of development experts and interested citizens to determine: (a) what the public goals should be, (b) assess the viability of different development approaches, and (c) construct a preferred development plan. This probably can be accomplished at no cost to the borough. It may be accomplished employing a partnership with a local college or through volunteers.
RESPONSE: The borough has a plan for the entire area from Market Street to the train station and Sycamore Square, and it's being implemented (see the train station, see the soon-to-be walking paths).
(2) Relying on infrastructure development and market forces has a very low probability of success. Pennsylvania is awash with downtowns that have nice sidewalks, planted trees, and some parking….but many boarded windows. In these times an integrated approach that uses a programming method is necessary.
RESPONSE: Absolutely! Placing trash cans, for instance, strategically throughout the downtown will make it look nice as people drive through town, but it won't make them stop.
(3) A business is not a business. The public’s interest in a “community downtown” is not one which is vested in attracting financial planners, architects, and other non-retail businesses. A public downtown is for people as much as it is for shopping.
RESPONSE: This is the reason why the borough is moving forward with the walking paths. As I mentioned in my comments to the e-mail Mike sent to me, the paths could make E-town's downtown a destination. As Borough Manager Roni Ryan noted, how many people head out to the Conewago Trail to walk two miles out and two miles back -- and there's nothing out there?
(4) The plan cannot be too incremental. Accomplishing the threshold economy of agglomeration is necessary for the success of any plan. A little bit is not enough.
RESPONSE: And here's the rub: The borough government can't take it on all by itself. It will require business owners working together with the chamber, the borough and each other in a coordinated effort. It will require the borough to use its influence to make things happen within the constraints of budgets and taxes.
If we all work -- really put some time, effort and money in -- toward a common goal, we can stop talking about Elizabethtown's potential and finally realize it.