UMass survey finds parking, safety top downtown businesses’ list of concerns

Despite concerns about parking, public safety and a poor economy, small business owners in downtown Fall River are optimistic about their future.

These were some of the findings from a survey conducted by students in an Organizational Behavior course taught by Kaisa Holloway Cripps at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Charlton College of Business. This spring, UMass Dartmouth students targeted 100 small businesses along North and South Main streets from Pine Street to Cottage Street. Small businesses were defined as those with between one to 25 employees. The findings were released during a meeting at the former Cherry and Webb Building on Wednesday night. 

The students went door-to-door asking owners what their perceptions are of business conditions in the Downtown Business District these days, what they expect conditions to be like in six months, whether they plan to add employees and about the many hurdles they have to face.

The students received responses from 72 businesses, with about three out of four stating that they either retained or increased the number of people they employed in the past year and felt that their sales would remain the same or increase over the next year.

Eighty percent of responders listed parking as a key issue affecting their businesses. Seventy-three percent listed public safety, 62 percent cited consumer demand and 59 percent were concerned with operating costs.

The survey was the brainchild of Greater Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce member and local business owner Curt Nelson. He felt the best way to implement change was to get input from those in the community and find out what their major concerns are.
    
“Hopefully, we can get some consensus from all the downtown business owners,” said Nelson, who owns Nelson Insurance and Financial Services on North Main Street.

“Consensus on what we can do to make things better, then maybe come together as a group and make some change.”

Michael Quinn was one of the students that conducted the surveys. He said an overwhelming number of business owners felt a lack of parking was crippling their business. He also said many of them did not feel safe at night in the downtown area. Quinn said a boutique owner told him she takes her computer home with her every night fearing that it will get stolen. A few business owners said they have witnessed prostitution and drug sales going on right outside their establishment.

“Customers don’t feel 100 percent safe down here,” Quinn said.

Another concern is the perceived lack of support from city officials. Quinn said the business owners feel they have no voice in Fall River.

“We kept seeing again and again, ‘We’d like to see more of a partnership with City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce,” Quinn said. “They want city officials to meet with them, feel they are part of the same team.” 

City Councilor David Dennis invited local business owners to attend next month’s Economic Development and Tourism subcommittee meeting to discuss the findings of the survey.

“Local government is very interested,” Dennis said. “There has to be mutual interest for this to work.”

Email Derek Vital at dvital@heraldnews.com.

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