What are the things about Belmont that frustrate business owners most? That we have too many hoops to go through before you open a business. That the process is opaque and hard to understand. That we have rules on the books that are outdated and more burdensome than those in our neighboring towns.
Is this because people in Belmont don’t want businesses to locate here? I’d answer that with a resounding “No.” Time and again, I hear people talking about wanting a larger commercial base to ease the burden on property taxes for carrying the weight of our budget. I see people upset when small businesses close, and excited when a new restaurant or store opens in one of our commercial centers. I see sidewalks filled for events that celebrate Cushing Square or Belmont Center. I understand how a thriving local business culture makes living in Belmont better, both financially and in our quality of life.
So what can we do to make our town more appealing to businesses? I believe at the heart of the problem is communication. We have launched a business climate survey, but what we do with it depends upon the quality of the responses and the actions we take to make improvements afterwards.
- How do we ensure that business owners, including former business owners and those who chose not to locate here participate in discussions about our policies
- How do we approach any changes to commercial zoning with members of the public and ensure that we explain the benefits and potential negatives of any changes?
- How do we make the processes of opening a business in town transparent and understandable to a potential or existing business owner?
The answer to each of these questions is communication. We need to communicate and we need to communicate well.
If we are unable to explain concisely the steps someone needs to take to locate their business in our town, then that process is too complicated. When an interested restauranteur or shop owner has to return to meeting after meeting with a lawyer and architect–who are being paid for their time to be there–only to be told, “We need this one more thing,” we are setting them up for failure. We are depleting their energy and their financial resources unnecessarily before they’ve even opened their doors.
Once we have businesses here in town, we need to support them. How many of us shop online for things we could easily purchase locally? How many of us go to a big-box store to purchase something we could get in Belmont Center? There are few among us who have never had a box from Amazon on our doorstep. How do we minimize that tendency and encourage local shopping?
My own shopping behaviors have been changed for the better by the diversity of shops in Belmont Center. When we can accomplish multiple errands at once in one location, we are less likely to shop online out of convenience. This is where good zoning decisions come into the equation, so we need to have thoughtful collaborations between the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and business owners to ensure that we have a good mix of businesses in town.
I support a town-wide campaign focused on incremental changes that shoppers can make to spend more dollars locally. We can communicate with residents about the importance of spending our dollars in town. When we spend locally, we benefit our communities because more of that money stays here instead of going into the bank accounts of distant investors. We also know that empty storefronts don’t make a town feel like a place where you want to live, whereas a thriving local restaurant, services, and shopping scene make a small town like ours appealing. Protecting that culture protects our investment in our town.
“I understand how a thriving local business culture makes living in Belmont better, both financially and in our quality of life.”