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Report says burger event boon for DDA, bust for biz

June 27, 2012 - Backyards & Burgers 2012 was certainly a profitable event for the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA), but not so much for businesses within the district.

According to a report prepared by DDA Administrative Assistant Maria Martin, the DDA took in a grand total of $24,985 in profits from the four-day event in May.

That consisted of $21,620 in profits from the carnival held in the southeast quadrant parking lot, plus $3,365 in sponsorship monies and income from the sale of burger hats and t-shirts.

Businesses, on the other hand, didn't fare so well.

Martin sent evaluation forms to all 157 businesses within the DDA district. Of those, she received feedback from 23.

Approximately 20 of the businesses who responded indicated they gained $7,100 in retail sales and lost $78,242 in sales for a net retail loss of $71,142.

"The businesses most negatively impacted by this are the businesses in the southeast quadrant who lost their parking lot for an entire week (due to the carnival being located there)," Martin told the DDA board at its June 18 meeting. "That affected revenue. That affected customers' ability to gain easy access to those stores."

Martin noted the carnival also "adversely affected" the other downtown quadrants "to some extent."

"People would park in other quadrants and walk across (the street) to the carnival and therefore, take up the regular customer parking," she explained.

DDA board member Anna Taylor speculated that most of that $78,242 was lost by one business in the southeast quadrant. She asked Martin, "About 75 percent of that (retail) loss was because of the movie theater, correct?"

"No," Martin replied. "They were one of the bigger contributors (to the reported losses)."

Martin could not divulge any specifics about any of the businesses who gave feedback or shared sales figures due to a confidentiality guarantee.

Speaking as a southeast quadrant merchant, Taylor, who owns Pink & Charlie, indicated the event had a mixed impact on her business due to parking. She explained that when the southeast parking lot was closed for three days while the carnival was being set up, she lost some business.

However, once the carnival opened, her business "picked up a bit."

"I'm 50/50 on it," said Taylor, who noted that "people did figure out how to get" to her store despite the parking loss.

Martin told the board one of the biggest problems was families spent so much money on the carnival, food and beverages that they either couldn't afford to shop or didn't feel like spending any more.

She noted the average family of four spent about $80 on wristbands, which allowed access to carnival rides, plus another $60 ($15 per person) in food and drinks either from concession stands or local restaurants.

So, "before any of them even hit the back-door of any of our retail stores," they've already spent $140, according to Martin.

Based on retail losses, Martin told officials things have to change and the Backyards & Burgers event needs to be totally revamped to make it more business-friendly.

"If we're an economic development body, we need to be making sure that all our activities and all of the events that we host are economically developing the district," she said.

Officials agreed.

DDA Chairman Don Sherman noted that on the three pages worth of feedback submitted by business owners, there were "quite a few" positive comments about the event. However, the numbers are the numbers.

"Unfortunately, when you look at the bottom line with the financial piece of it, that kind of tends to be the main thing," Sherman said. "We are an economic development body and that's what our focus is. As much as it's great to have community events, it's got to make financial sense to be able to do it."

"The carnival brought a lot of people downtown; it just wasn't effective for some of the business owners," said DDA Treasurer Ed Hunwick. "If they're going to suffer, it makes no sense to continue doing this."

Martin indicated the DDA will be utilizing a focus group to figure out how to change and improve the event. This group will meet at 1 p.m. Monday, July 9 at the DDA office.

"We're going to try and involve retailers, some of our volunteers on the promotions committee, and pretty much anybody who's interested in participating," she told this reporter.

Those interested are asked to call Martin at (248) 210-0919 by Friday, June 29. "It's always good to have feedback from all kinds of areas and all kinds of people," said DDA Director Madonna Van Fossen. "That's how these ideas get worked out and get better."

Martin indicated that one of the options that's going to be explored is potentially relocating the carnival.

If the carnival continues to be held in the downtown area, the retailers will continue to "sacrifice" sales, she said.

"Because either the people (coming downtown) are spending their money on the carnival or the regulars, who would spend (their) money in the retail stores, are choosing to stay away for that period because the carnival is not appealing to them," Martin said.

Van Fossen indicated that if it was decided to once again put the carnival in the southeast quadrant parking lot, there could be an option of keeping a portion of it open, so customers could access businesses.

DDA member Bill Dunn suggested having carnival-goers park somewhere like the high school, then use North Oakland Transportation Authority vehicles as a shuttle service.

It's Martin's opinion there needs to be a "win-win solution" in which the carnival is relocated to another spot, perhaps "slightly away from the downtown," so as to allow customers "easy access" to the stores.

"I think we will then satisfy two markets at the same time," she said.

DDA member Tom Jones, who owns Funky Monkey Toys in the northwest quadrant, noted his "fear" about moving the carnival would be the loss of the foot-traffic.

"As a retailer, I enjoyed the additional foot-traffic," he said.

Having all those extra folks downtown gave Jones the "opportunity" to get people into his store. If the carnival's held somewhere outside the downtown area, he believes that opportunity "decreases."

"To me, to push 1,000 to 5,000 people away from (the) downtown doesn't sound like a good idea," he said.

Resident Sue Bossardet doesn't want to see the foot-traffic disappear, either. "If you could move that carnival somewhere else, that would be ideal, but you still need to have something downtown that's going to get people downtown," she said.

Hunwick agreed. "I think it's prudent for the DDA to find a different location (for the carnival) that works (yet) still brings the foot traffic downtown, (so) it benefits everybody."

Martin indicated they are exploring building on and expanding the backyard and burger elements in order to bring a different kind of foot-traffic downtown, "people who are prepared to spend money on those elements."

Ideas include having all the burger vendors under one tent and having businesses associated with gardening and landscaping set up sales and demonstration areas.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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