Friday, January 13, 2006

Retailers encouraged to look to future

Ketchum business and community leaders discuss shopping strategies

Express Staff Writer

While Ketchum officials work on adding sidewalks, directional signs and lighting to the city, local merchants are trying to create their own incentives to increase interest and activity in town.

Two topics dominated the Ketchum Retailers' Alliance meeting Thursday, Jan. 12: keeping stores open later to cater to evening shoppers, and getting merchants to weigh in on the city's downtown master plan, currently in its first of three phases.

"I need all of you to be paying attention to what's going on in your city," said alliance founder Debbie "Burnsie" Burns. "Our cash flow, our loss of business to Hailey, lease costs rising and the inability to buy our spaces. (Our concerns) have been heard, and now it has been put into a plan."

The city of Ketchum hired economic development consultant Tom Hudson to help create the framework for a revitalized city core.

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall attended the meeting to get feedback on what is important to merchants and to emphasize how retailers fit in to the master plan.

"First, I have to have a better understanding of what your needs are," Hall said. "We are going to be leaning on you guys. When we get the action plan up, we're going to need you to participate."

Reflecting on last month's sales, the dozen retailers at Thursday's meeting said the holiday season was a good one.

"The skier count was over the top," Burns said. "There were thousands of people walking around ... and they shopped 'til they dropped. But there was a lot of disappointment in the general public as far as the consistency of hours (of operation)."

Retailers who did stay open later, until 7 or 8 p.m., reported good sales.

"Our evenings were very strong," said Doug Brown, co-owner of Janes and RSVP stationery stores. "There's an element out there that wants to spend money at that time. It's crazy if we don't stay open."

Brown said the season got off to a slow start, however.

"The first 10 days (of December) were really shaky compared to last year," he said. "Thanksgiving weekend wasn't much at all."

But the closer Christmas got, and the faster the snow fell, the more business picked up.

Retailers also encouraged each other to be on the lookout for $5 bills that have been washed of their denomination and made to look like $100 bills. And they encouraged increased communication to deal with what they see as an increase in shoplifting.

Hall said he'd like to get feedback on business owners' interest in forming an LID, or local improvement district, for snow removal.

Business owners often cite icy and snow-covered sidewalks in public places as detrimental to shopping and strolling city streets.

Previously, the task was handled by an understaffed Parks & Recreation Department, Hall said. But the city has since contracted with a private company.

"It was a problem, especially over Christmas," he said, "and we hope not to repeat that."

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