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Not everyone sold yet on new merchants association

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a monthly allocation of $1,000 to hire a director for the new Jonesborough Area Merchants and Service Association at the Nov. 8 BMA meeting.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe called the merchants association a form of economic development.
“It is a value for the town and a wise investment of available funds that complement current tourism efforts,” he said.
Town Administrator Bob Browning said $7,000 would be administered from the existing budget beginning in December through the end of the fiscal year in June. The Visitors Center marketing budget will supply $3,500, with the remaining half coming from the $62,719 of unappropriated dollars in the town’s general fund.
“We will do an evaluation during May and June for inclusion in the next year’s budget,” Browning said. “This is a catalyst for opportunity to provide seed money to go toward hiring a director.”
Browning said the intent is for membership to the association to sustain it and help generate additional sales tax dollars rather than relying on property taxes.
He noted that association members will make the decision about whom to hire as the director. The position will not be classified as a town employee, he said.
An Interim Board of Directors made up of Joel Conger of Mauk’s of Jonesborough; Jeff Gurley of The Lollipop Shop; and Christine Edwards of The Dining Room, has authority to pass by-laws that will establish a membership organization and a nine-member board of directors.
Conger and Gurley are listed as incorporators on the association’s charter, along with former downtown business owner Diane Rowenhorst, who has received strong support for the director position.
Several letters of recommendation for Rowenhorst from Jonesborough business owners were submitted to the BMA along with the request for funding.
Rowenhorst operated Bone Ami Pet Boutique in downtown Jonesborough for almost three years before closing her doors in July.
“There were numerous reasons I closed,” Rowenhorst said. “The business wasn’t where it needed to be, and it was detrimental to keep it open considering the bad economy.”
Rowenhorst said no longer being a business owner would not affect her performance if elected as director of the merchants association.
“I don’t have the vested interest I did before, but I know what the business owners need,” she said. “I worked downtown for seven years in different capacities. Everybody down here knows what we need to do.”
Gurley said the goal of the newly-formed association is simple — to get people to town.
“The town is the draw, not the individual businesses,” he said. “It is not a function of the town to promote us, but it’s a win-win for both when we work together.”
The benefit also extends to businesses in the surrounding area, he said.
“It’s no different from the businesses in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge that draw customers from people traveling to Gatlinburg,” he said.“If we get people to town, there is a good chance they will also need to get gas or a place to spend the night.”
Barbara Stout, of The Crafty Peddler in downtown Jonesborough, said she is reserving judgment about the new association and any possible director choice until she knows how much money per month membership will cost a business.
“I think it’s a sad time to be asking business owners to pay dues because money is tight. (JAMSA) is also going to have to involve some creative ways to bring people in, especially if they are going to ask us to stay open at night. We can’t be here all day and all night with no customers,” she said. “And if they’re going to pay a salary (to the director), I think it needs to be someone with a marketing background.
“I think they need to choose from two to four (candidates) if it’s a paid position.”
Membership in JAMSA will be open to all businesses and organizations in Jonesborough, not just those in the historic district.
“I don’t know what problems the business owners on 11-E have. Because I was a business owner downtown, I am more familiar with their struggles,” Rowenhorst said. “But I do think the success of one affects the other, even though the same strategies may not work. They will have to be treated differently, but one is just as important as the other.”
David Sells of Old Town Hardware on Highway 11-E said owners of businesses on the highway formed a merchants association several years ago that never got off the ground.
“We started out with 30 members, but participation and interest dropped off, and we dwindled down to two,” he said. “If they can get the interest and keep it peaked, I think it’s a great idea.”
Sells said he believes one association could serve both business areas.
Many decisions have yet to be made regarding JAMSA.
“We’re not running yet. Right now we’re crawling, and we need opinions,” Rowenhorst said. “We have just formed the association with the state, and we will need to have a membership drive and decide what the organization will be before the first meeting.”
Members will vote on a JAMSA Board of Directors during the first meeting, which will be held in early 2011.
Four board members will be from businesses and organizations located within the Jonesorough historic district, and four from outside the district.
The ninth member will be appointed by the BMA to ensure and enhance good communication with the town.