Tuesday wasn’t the first time the Zebulon Beautification Committee had seen a modest crowd at a meeting it organized for downtown merchants.
But it may be the last time the interest group tries to bring downtown business and property owners together to discuss the betterment of the town’s core and the formation of a downtown merchants association.
Committee chair Ramona Davis and her cohorts have been holding similar meet-and-greet gatherings of the merchants periodically since May 2010. Of several meetings, only one held Oct. 1 last year saw significant turnout and interest from the downtown business community.
Seven people representing a total of five downtown businesses or properties attended the committee’s coffee hour on Tuesday. An equal number of people were in attendance representing town government and the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce.
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Davis considered it the last straw in her group’s involvement in downtown, where none of the five committee members even own a business.
“Either Patricia (Roberson) or Jenny (Privette) or I personally contacted every one of (the downtown merchants),” Davis said, referring to invitations to the coffee hour. “Mayor (Bob) Matheny said four years ago we’re not going to get much done without the help of the merchants and after four years, you know, he’s right.
“After four years, we really still don’t know what the merchants want. We can’t seem to even get them together for a coffee hour.”
Nelle Carroll and Charles Estes of Whitley Furniture galleries, who attended the meeting, support the idea of a downtown merchants association. Carroll insisted to Davis the poor turnout at various gatherings held by the committee has not been due to apathy.
“It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we’re busy,” Carroll said. “I guess it just takes somebody to step up to the plate and lead it.”
Matheny said the lack of participation is likely also related to tough economic times. Davis’ response was pointed. “We’re all busy, but it takes busy people to get things done.”
Davis said Matheny after the meeting proposed her committee not disband for a while longer to see if any action takes place in the formation of a merchants association. For the time being, she considers the committee on pause. She ended the meeting by encouraging those present to reach out to other downtown businesspeople.
Carroll and Estes said they would want to revisit the idea with local attorney Mike Weeks, whose law firm has been based in downtown Zebulon for 40 years. Weeks was not at Tuesday’s meeting.
Weeks chaired a two-year study group beginning in early 2011 that researched the value of a special zoning district for downtown at the request of Zebulon commissioners. That group, which consisted mostly of downtown business owners, began talks of forming a merchants association as it was finalizing a recommendation on the overlay district to the town board.
Weeks in October indicated plans to organize a meeting of all downtown businesses to see what thoughts they have on forming an association, but it never came to pass. That was the last talk of such a move until the beautification committee’s coffee hour on Tuesday.
“It’s not that it’s not been an interest, we’ve just all been too busy to get back with it,” Weeks said Wednesday. “I haven’t given up on it yet.”
The beautification committee was a driving factor in the town’s pursuit of an overlay district. Davis considers that the committee’s most significant accomplishment, and getting the town to landscape and add signage near the railroad tracks on Arendell Avenue its second-best feat.
Members of the committee for the last four years have often been seen pacing the sidewalks of downtown, talking with merchants and making recommendations on ways to make a building look better.
They took on beautification projects on their own using a mix of donated funding, and at times money out of their own pockets. They’ve been known to ask businesses to decorate their storefronts for the holidays, but would provide and install decorations where requested.
The committee also organized two Christmas promotions that filled downtown Zebulon with carolers and other performing groups, and the intended result – customers.
“We’ve worked with each of the property owners and got each property to look about as good as it’s going to look,” Davis said. “I feel like we’ve done about as much as we can do downtown.
“Unless there’s something specific the town wants us to do, I think it’s our time to stop.”