Jennifer Geiger

Jennifer Geiger

January is traditionally a month for taking stock, as businesses and organizations do inventory and finalize end-ofyear spreadsheets to find the answer to the question, “How did we do?”

This week, shopkeepers and business owners from downtown Bath will meet to share feedback on how well their businesses performed in the last quarter of 2012 in what has become another downtown Bath tradition, the “Business Barometer” roundtable.

Retailers, restaurant owners, professional service and hospitality businesses will sit down together to share information about how they did individually, and to give everyone a sense of how successful the downtown was, as a whole, in attracting and serving customers.

Bath’s Business Barometer roundtables began more than 20 years ago and are held several times each year, typically at the end of the winter, after the summer and fall tourism season, and at the end of the holiday shopping season.

Sharing information in this way has proven to be a great tool for downtown Bath. As business owners compare notes, they are able to identify what economic trends affected everyone and which were unique to their own business.

Was business up over last year, or down? Did shoppers buy early in the season, or wait until the last minute?

Trading insights on questions like these also fosters a spirit of cooperation, encouraging businesses to think of themselves as collaborators rather than as competitors.

It builds awareness that one shop’s success can bring traffic to others nearby, and encourages businesses to support each other and recommend other downtown merchants to their own customers.

This spirit of cooperation is key to the success of downtown Bath. The merchants find strength in numbers, pooling their resources to promote the downtown as a destination and using cooperative advertising to increase their buying power.

Widespread participation in downtown events and sales helps make them a bigger draw for all.

Small retail entrepreneurs discover that locating in downtown Bath gives them a built-in support system and the collective power to compete at a level that wouldn’t be feasible otherwise.

This week’s Business Barometer Roundtable will give participants the big picture of how well downtown Bath’s businesses did during the recent holiday shopping season. Main Street Bath will be looking for feedback to help us gauge whether our efforts to promote the businesses as a group and the downtown as a destination were successful, and asking how we can do better.

The feedback will inform our decisions in the year ahead and help us make the most of the unique assets of our historic downtown.

Maine’s leadership similarly takes stock of the state economy, and for the past few years the verdict has not been great.

According to reports, as our neighbors have begun to recover from recession, Maine was the only New England state where the economy regressed in 2011, and it remained stalled in 2012.

It was heartening to see a spirit of cooperation operating at the state level last week, as leaders in the Legislature announced a new bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future.

The work of the committee will be to take immediate steps to jump-start Maine’s lagging economy, and to position it for future growth.

To do this, they have prioritized work force training to address skills gaps, assistance for small businesses, and revitalizing Maine’s downtowns as economic engines to help get Maine’s economy moving again.

Bath is fortunate to have our state senator, Seth Goodall, as a co-chairman of the new economic development committee.

Senator Goodall is a longtime supporter of downtown Bath. He comes to our events, shops in our stores, and understands how the investment of time, energy and capital in Bath’s downtown has helped our small independent businesses get a foothold and flourish.

Downtowns are beautifully designed to nurture small businesses which, at 95 percent of all businesses in Maine, are the backbone of our economy.

With critical mass, a healthy downtown provides a built-in destination location, complete with foot traffic and conveniences for their customers.

And collectively these small businesses make a large contribution to the local economy through job creation, purchase of services and support for schools and nonprofits.

That a state economic committee is prioritizing investment in Maine’s downtowns and Main Streets is great news for Bath, and great news for Maine.

JENNIFER GEIGER is director of Main Street Bath.

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