Business and Retail

It was a fairly innocuous information request on Facebook to my Pullman friends:

“As things evolve, what things do YOU want to NOT change about Pullman? What things do you consider our city’s core values to be?

“And, what things, big or small, do you think need fixed or improved? What does the city council need to consider? I guess I’m OK with your pet peeves, as well.”

I wanted to know the heart and mind of my friends and acquaintances. Here’s what I got:

  • I would love to see some art galleries downtown, so we could do a first Friday type thing… do they do that already? I’m still too new to know!
  • dude, where are all the sidewalks? We have random places where they’re just like missing.
  • Keep life simple and small. We moved to Pullman in 2010 because we didn’t want to live in the Tri Cities or Coeur D Alene or Boise other areas. We liked the small, quirky, quaint ways of Pullman. We are thankful for the business and industries of the area which permit a collection of individuals and families to enjoy the area.
  • Would like to see the retail keep up with the housing, revitalize downtown, variety of restaurants.
  • I love the family centered areas like the parks, recreational areas and festivals that make this place special. The pullman arts walk needs to be ramped up a bit but has lots of promise. The trail system through town is also awesome. We sure use it for walking! Also we love the locally owned businesses succeeding and would love to see that expanded downtown more!!
  • I moved her 2 years ago from the Phoenix area and Love Pullman. One thing I think we could improve on is having more indoor things for kids to do. This would be great in the winter time especially. Possibly a play structure, indoor trampoline place, or place to run around and burn energy. I know there is Bonkers in Moscow, but it would be great if Pullman had something. In the Phoenix area they have “indoor parks” for those hot days. One of the great things we love about Pullman is the Parks and Rec, but its hard to take the kids to the park when its cold, rainy, or snowing.
  • New developments don’t have sidewalks. What the hell?! Even moscow has sidewalks in unfinished developments!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • It would be nice to have more variety in restaurants. Also, downtown has such potential, but right now is just not worth the walk or parallel parking.
  • Indian restaurant is a on-going wish of mine.
  • I love this: https://pullmanradio.com/large-mixed-use-development…/
  • Revitalize downtown as opposed to building more south or east.
  • Road repairs, tax funded EMS, more employment, shutting down parking services.
  • Would like to see less marijuana retail stores and growing/processing in such close proximity to schools and residential areas. I’ve written many emails about this already tho. I agree with Pullman needing a Indian restaurant and park improvements as well.
  • Parks need major work. All the playgrounds are old and worn out. Pick one park and make it amazing- green grass and all. Fields also need a ton of work.
  • Get rid of Mimosas. I have heard that the Subway people own it and keep it shut down for parking. Not sure if true or not. Either way, it needs a bulldozer or fire.
  • I’m totally up for bringing this kind of food spot in [Mimosa’s] place. Trust me, I’d be eating there every week. Http://roti.com
  • Roads fixed, traffic lights managed better, more restaurant variety and fill up empty buildings with businesses downtown.
  • They need to work on parking in the downtown area. It is about time to do away with parking along side of Grand through the downtown area and make it 2 lanes both directions.
  • we need some better restaurants.
  • My concerns have been addressed: better/more street repair, variety of restaurants–Indian is good, empty buildings cleaned up/rebuilt and occupied, downtown parking solutions–a pay-for-parking garage or two in empty lots could be a source of revenue, an RV park with hook ups could be good for summer as well as games.
  • We need to fix High Street’s unevenness, the snow removal policies need to improve and we’re not putting in sidewalks for stupid reasons, so basically stuff with public works is [expletive] up.
  • Many of the same things mentioned above: more parks/kids areas (indoor and outdoor options), restaurant selection, and filling empty store fronts downtown.

Finally, someone added “I think people forgot to read what Brandon said…. he wanted to hear what NOT TO CHANGE, also… ” Well, true, but I’m happy to hear things upon which we can improve.

[Note: There were some inaccuracies in some of the statements made by Facebook friends, such as who owns the Mimosa… those were all corrected publicly in responses.]

A noticeable theme

There were some major things that stuck out: restaurants and retail, things for kids to do, and sidewalks. I’ve spoken about the last one as part of my Public Transportation Network post. So here, I’m going to focus on retail and business (of which restaurants are part).

I think one thing is evident: a lot of folks want more businesses in town. I think what it really amounts to is that folks want more local options. There’s no shortage of things one can buy on Amazon. We know that. But individuals appealing to their own sense of local pride and community often want to buy locally, only to not find what they’re looking for.

One thing is less evident to some folks: the city doesn’t usually open and run businesses. It’s not going to open an Indian restaurant, as much as I’d like good aloo tikki, pakora, or chicken vindaloo.

It can however, create a business-friendly climate.

One caveat: I’m not a business expert. I know plenty of folks who are, though. A good family friend of ours has been a director of multiple chambers of commerce. My brother-in-law Matt is the executive director of the Lewis County Economic Development Council, and used to do the same thing in Mason County. When I have questions about business, I often turn to them, or to our very own Marie Dymkoski.

In fact, in terms of the latter, I’d say since #Pullman2040, and its steering committee – spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce – holds a great potential for helping our city.

Albeit from a complete lay person, here are a few things I think would be worth at least exploring:

  • Find ways to revitalize downtown. A vibrant downtown is essential to the soul of a community. Not to romanticize it, but poems are written about the majesty of the center of town, not the strip malls on the periphery. So, why don’t more business owners set up shop downtown? I don’t think there’s one answer. I think it’s a combination of factors. There are some buildings downtown that look rather nice, at least from the outside. I like the Pine Street Plaza, and the exterior of the Towne Centre where the WSU Foundation is. But a lot of downtown buildings are dilapidated. This may work for a coffee shop with a hipster vibe; doesn’t work for a high-end retail location. The other thing that I’ve been told from multiple people is that the retail rent downtown is extremely high. Like, Spokane downtown. That seems weird to me. I can understand if there is no vacancy (supply and demand), but here, we have plenty of store fronts sitting empty. Or, I could see high rent if the building space was amazing. But it doesn’t seem to be that, either.
    I’ve heard the idea floated about commercial rent control. The Commercial Observer writes that it’s a bad idea. One reason I’ve heard is that it discourages developers from rehabilitating their buildings. Then again, in this case, it seems like the rehabilitation isn’t happening anyway. So, it’s tough to say. I don’t have the answers. But it’s worth a discussion.
  • Accept the fact that we must have commerce in other parts of town.
    The idea that we must either revitalize downtown or grow business in other parts of town – but not both – is ludicrous. Why would we romanticize neighborhood schools but not neighborhood grocery stores? Not only do I like the idea of a quick walk to something in my neighborhood (notwithstanding some missing sidewalks on Harvest Drive), but if we were only allowed to have commerce in downtown, there would only be one direction we could go: up! We need to accept the fact that while we work to bring people together, we must also give people options in their own neighborhoods.
    Truthfully, one of my favorite things about the time I spent in Argentina was the ability to stop on any number of streets and buy small-item goods at the “kioskos.” These were often a front room of homes, where the windows and shutters opened right up to the sidewalk and you could buy things both essential or not: milk, bread, candy, soda, etc. I’m not suggesting the same city code be used, just pointing out how nice it was to take a walk to a mom-and-pop type outfit and get a few things. The majority of residents live in the northeast quadrant of our city, yet the majority of businesses are in the south-southeast. There are some areas of town that aren’t serviced by any commercial businesses of any kind, and I think that’s a shame.
  • Welcome immigrants. According to the Kauffman Index, immigrants are two times more likely to open a business. These aren’t merely jobs immigrants are often stereotyped as holding, but are often high-tech jobs that require high skills. Perhaps you’ve heard the stat recently that immigrants and children of immigrants are the founders of about half of the Fortune 500 companies. This is substantial. Regardless of what kind of policies exist in our nation, Pullman can do its best to welcome immigrants and help them with their business endeavors.
  • Leverage – and improve – current local relationships. Making business and retail a key task group of the #TownGown collaborative, and a focus of #Pullman2040 can potentially do wonders. At WSU, there is a new student entrepreneurship group being led by the Carson College of Business, and its focus is helping students across all disciplines look at entrepreneurial options for their scholarship and research. This doesn’t necessarily mean business, but let’s be honest, a good percentage of those who become involved in this new endeavor might just choose to take their ideas to market. And, if Pullman is involved in the process, much of those ideas might just stay here. What a difference things would have been had Dr. Edmund Schweitzer not elected to stay in Pullman! We do have folks who come from the university and elect to stay. My friend Adam Jones is an expert web developer. He decided to leave his WSU job to take the risk as an entrepreneur. He has a small staff, works out of Gladish Community Center. I hope he succeeds. Aren’t we all a little richer because he and his wife stayed here in Pullman instead of heading elsewhere? Absolutely!
  • Specific Chamber of Commerce workshops. I’m specifically talking about 1) business acumen, and 2) customer service skills. We’ll take them in order1) Just because a person has great ideas doesn’t mean they know how to run a business. You see this all the time on those reality TV cooking shows where Bubba says he wants to open a restaurant because the whole family done thinks he makes the best darned fried chicken this side of the Mississippi. I won’t name names here but we have a few of these businesses in our community. I sincerely hope they become more knowledge about business because they have great potential and I want them to stay around for years.2) When it comes to customer service, I appreciate that I learned what good customer service is from Brad LaRue, a restaurant owner and my first boss, for whom I worked in high school. He just “got it” when it came to this craft; part art, part science. We have some business owners here in Pullman that also get it. They know that they can ethically make money while doing what is in the customer’s best interest. They know the customer is not always right, but they can skillfully deal with issues that may arise. There are other business owners who aren’t like this, though. The treat people who come into their business as though that potential customer is an inconvenience. If you can’t pinpoint a single business owner here, than good for you! It would be easy to say the free market should be able to take care of all of this, but it’s a little more complex than this.How does this relate to the Chamber of Commerce? It would behoove the city to continue working hand-in-hand with the Chamber on key initiatives. I feel one of these initiatives could be sponsorship of workshops for business owners to help them learn current best practice in business and customer service. Working hand in hand with the Chamber would be great synergy.

This is just a small sampling of things that can either be done for the first time, or be improved upon, in order to strengthen current businesses, and perhaps attract new businesses. We should, of course, survey current business owners to find out exactly what they feel would help. We should also survey our residents and find out what kind of businesses they actually want. As we promote our city, this information could help us encourage the right kind of businesses to bring in.