Some Douglas Retailers Criticize What They Call Some City Officials' Efforts At Putting "Positive Spin" On Local Economic Issues & Concerns
At Monday’s meeting the Douglas City Council discussed the overall business climate of the city and that of the entire Saugatuck area, instigated by scathing criticism from 18-year local retailer John Thomas, who owns Phillip & Son Jewelry, Thomas Greene, and Mixed Media Gallery on Center Street.
While some council members noted they wanted to maintain a “positive spin” on the matter, Thomas and other local businesses say despite the tourist and economic boom experienced by many this summer season, not all is well for everyone, particularly some local retailers and restaurants.
Still, parties from either side of the discussion say they do want to see more fact-based decision making on any efforts to improve and enhance future economic development in the area.
In his August 24 letter to Douglas City Council, Thomas argues:
“What I read (per the recent comments made by council cited in the Observer Newspapers, specifically the article titled ‘Douglas Officials Deem Criticism Groundless Relative To ‘Business First’ Column’ in the August 21 edition) was clearly an attempt by the mayor and others to counter what they believe are ‘negative’ portrayals of area business conditions in the recurring column titled ‘Business First.’
“I understand their motives. But I think what they did was to err in the other direction by giving the impression that all is well and that there are no problems.”
Elsewhere, Thomas notes that “perhaps it is becoming too politically incorrect to talk about anything that isn’t superlatively positive.”
Thomas points out that officials had failed to acknowledge the two restaurants in the Douglas downtown district having been closed for lunch for three years, with the exception of weekends, because there isn’t enough traffic to justify being open for that meal time.
It is a factor with a negative affect on retailers, he added.
“There was also no mention that at the end of 2014 we saw the greatest turnover of retailers on Center Street in the 18 years that I have been doing business in Douglas. Or that three of those spaces remained empty for six months until two of them were recently rented,” Thomas further noted.
In their reply, some council members reiterated the message previously stated: It was a record-breaking year for many area businesses and the conversation should be kept optimistic.
Douglas City Council Member Greg Harvath, in particular, said he perceived the matter as a Tri-Community one.
“I wish as a community we could really look at what is happening in factual terms instead of going back and forth (in the argument),” he said.
He took the opportunity to take a jab at The Local Observer, implying the paper often printed negative information and often contradictory articles.
“I don’t understand, how can you have such contradictory comments in the same paper?” noted Harvath, adding, “I just wish some of this negativity would stop.”
Observer Newspapers’ Editor Mike Gallagher responded to Harvath’s points, saying, “What Mr. Harvath needs to understand is there are often various, and sometimes contradictory, points of view that residents and visitors - and yes, city leaders as well - hold on topics of importance, especially those dealing with economic issues and the viablity of the area.
““Our job is to present those various views through our news stories that quote individuals who may have differing opinions. Our readers are smart enough to think for themselves and decide whose positions they think are right or wrong.
“As far as providing readers ‘negative’ information, I’m sure Mr. Harvath isn’t suggesting everything is always rosy and perfect in Douglas or Saugatuck.
“Anyone who pretends that there are no issues of public concern in our two cities - or worse yet wants to hide the fact that there are sometimes problems - are at best disingenuous and at worst are attempting a grevious public deception.
“I would hope Mr. Harvath is not suggesting we do that. Providing a forum for people to express views on all sides of an issue is what the media is supposed to do. We will continue to provide that forum.”
Meanwhile, Douglas Mayor Jim Wiley conceded during the meeting that his previous comments about the economic boom revolved around restaurants and lodging businesses, and that yes, some retailers maybe are not doing that well.