By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Prevention is the key, Madison Police Chief Gary Calhoun told a group of Madison business owners regarding concerns about protecting themselves and their businesses from crime. At the Jan. 6 meeting at the Mail Room, 321 SW Pinckney St., he also advised his audience that gang-related activity is actually not that big a problem in Madison, and strangers targeting random victims is only a small portion of crime in the area. Instead, much of what his department sees is friend or family-based, with arguments between siblings, spouses, other family members, or acquaintances over “just really stupid stuff” escalating into violence.
So, the basis of any good crime watch, whether it’s a neighborhood or a group of business owners, is people being educated about what to look for when they’re out and about, noticing when something is a little off, and having good communication with each other and the police department. Everyone has cell phones, he said, including his 90-year-old mother. “Three things you can do are, call the police, call the police, and call the police…anytime something just doesn’t look right.”
Following Calhoun’s presentation, Ted Ensminger of the Madison Chamber of Commerce took the floor to discuss creating a small-business-friendly environment in the area with a “Shop Madison First” initiative. However, Madison business owners themselves need to lead by example, and make a commitment to turn things around at the cultural level. Currently, figures show that 80 percent of Chamber members shop outside of Madison four times a month or more, spending an average of $400 each trip. “We have a culture of making money in Madison and spending it in other places,” he said. “It’s a social event to go shop in Valdosta and see your friends, while restaurants in Madison remain empty.”
The group also discussed strategies for making their businesses more visible in the community, using technology such as linking websites and smart phones, as well as more events that would bring people into the downtown area. Several business owners related stories of people coming to their shop during the last Fifth Saturday event and saying, “I had no idea you were even here.”
Another problem for downtown businesses is adequate parking for their customers, an issue many agreed would take an ongoing effort to mitigate.
Other discussions included ideas for publicizing their various businesses, from Facebook to flyers. Ensminger further announced that the Chamber was creating a youth advisory board to help merchants connect with the 20-to-30-year-old demographic.
Drawing tourists was another topic that generated lively discussion. One area in particular that remains untapped, as far as a potential tourist attraction, is the abundance of Civil War history in the county, things that could be developed into tourist draws possibly comparable to the Battle of Olustee for Lake City and the Battle of Natural Bridge for Tallahassee.
Plans for the immediate future also include setting up an email list of local merchants and drawing Latino and African-American business owners into the next small business owners meeting - the time, date and location to be announced as soon as they are decided upon.