The New Normal In Local Business

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How to stimulate retail business in Old Town. That was the prime topic of an embryo group of merchants that gathered at Gallery LaFayette in Gadsbys Arcade Tuesday night, as well as a recurring theme recently in the citys business sector.

Todd Healy, owner of Gallery LaFayette, initiated and hosted the meeting to explore the possibility of forming a merchants organization to stimulate business and garner new customers.

I for one have not been able to stimulate new business since last Christmas, Healy said.
Those attending, in addition to Healy Nancy Pollard, La Cuisine; Donna McIntyre, Todays Cargo; Christina Stanton, Stanton Gallery; Fay Carter, The Christmas Attic; and Bob Lorensen, The Virginia Shop all offered a variety of suggestions on how to not only stimulate business but also how to make the best uses of technology and changing clientele attitudes.

There was unanimous agreement that, at least for the near future, there is probably a new normal in consumer spending as a result of the recession. That will require new approaches to merchandising, advertising and dealing with business overhead expenses.

I think its a whole new ballgame, Carter said. We are going to have to look at every detail of expense and pricing.
That includes their vendors as well as their customers, according to Healy.

Unique to the discussion, perhaps, different than what one might find at such a discussion anywhere else in the nation, is the impact of the federal government and national elections on this marketplace. It was noted that in presidential election years there is a virtual sea change in customer base and spending patterns.

We have to re-educate customers as to who and where we are every four years as many leave and new people arrive with each change in administration, Pollard said.

Three of the prime elements to emerge from the 90-minute discussion were: How to make better use of new technologies in getting out their messages, such as the use of email, Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp; how to convince the city government of the need to offer free, on-street parking during the holiday shopping season, such as is done in Annapolis; and partnering with other merchants to achieve the overall common goal of increased business.

The group praised the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association for its actions thus far in boosting the local economy.

Primarily a brain storming session, the meeting served to vent certain frustrations with the local business climate and lay the groundwork for a potential merchants organization to reinvigorate what is seen as a lackluster scenario. There was optimism about the approaching holiday shopping season, but it was coupled with the specter of the so-called new normal.

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