Thriving businesses top mayor#8217;s list

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 30, 2006

Speaking before about two dozen downtown business owners and managers Wednesday, Mayor Linda T. Johnson said she is a true believer in private enterprise and small businesses, and “(the city council) needs to support you.”

Johnson was the guest speaker of the monthly meeting of the Downtown Business Association, held in the conference room of the Bank of America on West Washington Street.

She called those in attendance, many of them operating their businesses in the downtown area, “pioneers.”

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Johnson told them that what Suffolk has to “sell” to others is “the uniqueness of experience you get here.”

“We need to blend the city together,” she said, adding that Suffolk has many wonderful things to offer. “We can’t not let that happen.”

She recalled years ago walking through the downtown area, shopping at the stores, many of which no longer exist, and how pleased she is to see so many others coming in to fill those gaps.

On a personal note, last year she chose to do all of her holiday shopping in the city, avoiding the crowded malls and the heavy traffic on the highways. She so enjoyed that experience, she’ll be doing it again this year, she added.

The mayor admitted that the downtown area has some issues, particularly with public safety, traffic and parking, but that she and the city council recognize that fact and are committed to addressing them.

On the parking issue, Margaret Gellas, who, along with her husband, owns Pices Restaurant, and is in the process of opening an Italian restaurant in the near future, said because of the inconvenience to their customers, caused by a lack of parking spaces, they have stopped opening for lunch.

“It goes totally against our business plan,” she told the mayor, “but we just had to do it.”

She asked Johnson where parking fell in the council’s priority list.

“We’re aware it is an issue,” said Johnson, adding that once the final financial analysis is presented, council should have a better idea of what can and needs to be done. That report, she said, is expected before the end of the year.

The city also is expected to hold a series of public meetings on the parking issue in the coming weeks after receiving the results of a survey officials contracted for earlier this year.

That report will “bring a lot to light,” she said.

Doug Lindsey, of Realty Referral Co., asked about the status of a new downtown post office.

Johnson said that falls under the auspices of the federal government and she was sure “where that stands” today.

Jeff Jones, owner of Java 149, expressed his concern for potential impact on his and other businesses with satellite government offices in North Suffolk taking customers away from downtown.

The mayor disagreed, saying many people have gone to paying bills, taxes and handling other government function over the Internet or the telephone.

“I don’t see an impact,” she said, adding people seem to be using their time more effectively. That is evidenced by much shorter lines at city hall and other offices, she said.

Johnson also said she recognizes, as does the council, that there is a “tremendous need” for recreation in the downtown sector, especially after the Birdsong Recreational Center closed earlier this decade.

In other matters:

– There will be no December meeting of the DBA due to the Christmas holiday.

– the DBA agreed to raise the monthly dues from $10 to $15 after Jan. 1, 2007.

– Members heard information on Saturday’s Christmas parade, Candlelight Tour of homes and other holiday activities in the coming days.