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Merchants not sold on new association

During a merchants meeting with the largest attendance in recent history, Jonesborough business owners expressed their displeasure with the process followed to establish the new Jonesborough Area Merchants and Service Association.
Approximately 20 merchants met Nov. 17 at the Visitors Center to review a list of holiday events. Following the agenda, the floor was opened for comments.
Maria Bledsoe, manager of the Historic Eureka Inn, asked why the merchants were so out of the loop regarding the recently-formed JAMSA.
“What’s with all the secrecy,” she asked.
Alicia Phelps, Jonesborough tourism director, said she was as surprised as the merchants were, especially when it came to how the organization was to be funded initially.
One half of the $7,000 allocated by the town for the hiring of a JAMSA director will come from the Visitors Center budget while the other half will come from the town’s general fund.
“It was a shock money was coming out of my budget,” Phelps said. “I had to read it in the newspaper.”
Phelps said she will now serve as a liaison with the town for the merchants.
“I will be your voice and make your opinions known,” she said.
While everyone agreed a merchants association could be beneficial, many expressed concern about the potential cost and questioned whose responsibility it is to bring customers to town.
“Isn’t that your job,” Bledsoe asked Phelps.
Phelps said she has been left in the dark about her new role and what her relationship will be with the yet-to-be-named JAMSA director.
“The town doesn’t have a say in who it is, but we’re paying for it, so I don’t know,” Phelps said.
Many merchants expressed concern that none of the JAMSA interim board of directors was present at the meeting. The board includes Joel Conger of Mauk’s of Jonesborough, Jeff Gurley of The Lollipop Shop, and Christine Edwards of The Dining Room.
“There is a benefit to a merchants association, so let’s not get hung up on how it started,” said Alex Bomba, of Main Street Cafe. “Let’s figure out what we can like about it and what it can do for us.”
An excerpt was read from an article in the Nov. 16 Herald & Tribune that explained the JAMSA board and director will be elected by the organization’s membership during its first meeting, planned for January 2011. Four board members will be business owners within the historic district, four will be from owners from outside that area, and the ninth member will be appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“If we’re going to be under BMA’s thumb, I’m not interested,” Bledsoe said.
Phelps plans to schedule a meeting with Mayor Kelly Wolfe and Town Administrator Bob Browning to talk about the questions raised at the meeting. Phelps noted that she, too, wants to know “where is this train going, and who started it.”
Wolfe and Browning will be invited to attend the December merchants meeting to address concerns. Merchants voiced their opinion that the JAMSA interim board should also be required to attend. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 6 p.m. at the Visitors Center.