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Chamber walk takes pulse of business

Findings to be discussed at March 11 Power Breakfast
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Is there a little more optimism in 2011, compared to last year at this time? That was the initial impression of some of the participants in Wednesday’s “Listening to Business” walk around Auburn. “To me, having done (the walk) last year and this year, I was really encouraged by the overall positive attitude at the businesses … so it was encouraging,” said Dave Johnson, who chaired the event. For the second year, teams of two visited businesses in Downtown, Old Town, Highway 49 corridor, Bowman and the Airport Business Park. They posed the same questions as last year — how is business, what do you like about doing business in Auburn and what improvements are needed for business in Auburn. Johnson, a Realtor with Century 21 in Old Town, and teammate Terri Bistline talked to businesses at the Auburn Town Center. “All but one (response) was positive,” Johnson said. “Everyone said business was at least good (as last year) and there was the excitement of having the new anchor store come in there. I was amazed. From the big stores to the little stores, they’re all looking forward to (getting the new store). The comment was made that if all the stores were filled (in the center), what a positive feeling that would be.” (McCaulou’s Department store will move into the former Gottschalks location this summer.) One business owner suggested that the Chamber of Commerce put on an event in the Town Center, an idea Johnson welcomes. “We’ve talked about having a mixer there and having it be (on a bigger scale),” he said. “Since I’m on the board of directors at the chamber, we will be talking about what we can do and how we can make that happen, especially with the new store coming in.” At Togo’s in the center, manager Yvette, who declined to provide her last name, said she thought the visit was useful. She’s looking forward to hearing the results. “It is good to see how businesses are doing and what we can do to help businesses and to help Auburn,” she said. Something that impressed Johnson, as well as Steve Galyardt, who, with teammate Jim Kelly, talked to businesses in the upper Lincoln Way area, was the sense of community. “When asked what they like about doing business here in town, they uniformly said it is because they love doing business (locally),” Galyardt said. Galyardt, who visited the Elm Avenue-Highway 49 area last year, said responses were very similar this time. “Last year, when I asked the individuals how they were doing, for the most part, they said OK. One dentist office said this year is better than last year; the others said about the same,” he said. “The outlook seemed to be a little more positive than last year — cautiously more positive.” At An Eclectic Home in Downtown Auburn, co-owner Michele Smith didn’t receive a visit, but welcomes this type of dialogue. “I’m seeing more people out and about willing to spend, but not a lot,” she said. “They’re still very frugal. They want good quality for their money and a good deal.” Still, she’s dismayed by the continuing trend of business closures. In the back of the store she pointed out hair salon stations for sale from a business that was recently shuttered in the Tahoe area. Approximately 54 participants braved the wind and rain for the walk, according to Bruce Cosgrove, chamber CEO. “There were city and county volunteers and, from the business community, representatives from retail, real estate, banking, service industry, hair salons and restaurants,” Cosgrove said. “We have a real strong cross-section of volunteers who were out there asking these questions, helping us determine the pulse of business today in the community.” And it was not simply a box-checking exercise. “They’re open-ended questions to allow business people to express how they feel and how they think,” he said. “(We want to know) how their business is doing, what they want their business to do and what they believe can be done that would be helpful to their specific business.” And it was up to the business owners to provide a little or a lot of feedback. “Some will say a short quick response, and others will elaborate. All of that is important to us. We give businesses all the time they want to express how they feel,” he said. “Visits could take three to five minutes or 20 minutes.” Teams had until 4 p.m. Wednesday to turn in the information they collected. The data is being entered into a computer model to be compiled into a report. The results will be unveiled at the Power Breakfast Friday, March 11, at the Holiday Inn in Auburn. County Economic Development Director Dave Snyder, Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson and chamber President Tony Hazarian will present the findings. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.