Downtown Merchants Sounding a Bit Whiny
By Bill Cochrane
Special to The Pilot
I'm getting more than tired of the "businessmen" of downtown Southern Pines.
I've been watching these business "champions," these "pillars of the marketplace," these proud providers of the best of Southern Pines. Time after time they run scared when new competitors seek to locate in and around the town of Southern Pines.
They wail that such competition will "threaten" their serene and beautiful, historically preserved, pristine small-town environment of downtown Southern Pines.
They run to Town Hall in fear and indignation, demanding that the Town Council shield them from "unfair" development and unwanted competition. They're at it again with the tentatively proposed new Planned Unit Development on the tract where Pine Needles Village was once proposed. Our stalwart knights of business helped to slay that feared dragon, too. And they're playing the same game all over again.
A recent article in The Pilot on the tentative development proposal included this tidbit of insight on the type of downtown merchants and businessmen we have in Southern Pines: "A group of downtown merchants have expressed an interest in having Miller conduct an economic impact study to determine how a large retail component might affect downtown retail stores."
Well, let me get this straight.
A. The downtown business community is so very proud of itself as presenting a unique small-town shopping and dining experience. Its members feel that they have preserved, with the aid of the Appearance Commission and the Historic District Commission, an environment and experience that everyone in the community simply loves and simply cannot do without. OK.
B. The members of the downtown business community believe that they are an invaluable and cherished part of the community - the backbone of the prosperity and success of Southern Pines. They are one of the prime reasons for attracting so many tourists, visitors, etc. to the area. OK.
C. The downtown business people claim to be champions of business ethics and the best business practices. They provide what this community needs, expects and wants. OK.
If they are so good and if they are so popular and if the downtown shopping experience is so much what this community wants and wants to preserve, then what do they fear? Why, the community would never abandon our cherished downtown shopping experience for competitors who locate along the highways or in new PUDs - would they?
Our stalwart downtown businessmen must not be so confident, after all. The fact that they hide behind Town Hall every time they feel threatened by new competitors reveals the truth about their myths and bravado facades.
Let me elucidate for the downtown businesses:
It is not the job of government - and that includes the Town Council - to protect you from your competition.
It is not the responsibility of your competition to figure out if they are going to hurt your business and then refrain from so doing!
If you cannot compete, then you are not providing what your customers, clients and community really want. You have only been fooling yourselves. Stop it.
Not only have you been fooling yourselves, but you have also been enlisting the aid of governmental agencies to waste money on your follies and myths. Stop it.
If your preservation and small-town shopping/dining experience is really so gosh-darned popular and so valued by your customers and the community, then you have nothing to fear. Your customers will choose you over any new competitors who locate in less desirable environments and who offer a different shopping experience, and the community will support you as a matter of choice.
You really can't have it both ways!
In a free market, customers are free to choose, and it is YOUR job to compete for our business.
Running to the Town Council for protection is misguided and pathetic. Man up!
Bill Cochrane, retired general manger of the former BellSouth Communications, lives in Knollwood. This column is excerpted from his blog, westknollwoodprecinct.com.
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