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Walking Forward: Part 2 (Jamilah Damiani)

This is my dream. This is the time. Let’s open a business! Where do we put it…? Woodbury! Yes. “This city has SO MUCH POTENTIAL!”

Like me, these are the words many small business owners say prior to opening their business in Woodbury, and in their mind’s eye they can see the customers casually strolling to visit all of the stores with their families. “Oooh, let’s go here first and then there!” A shopper says. Then you see the events, the beautiful trees, you hear the music and think to yourself “Yep! I did it. I made the right choice.” You do all the hard work to get up and running: Research, planning, research, planning, decorating, advertising and boom! You’re open. “Hi, everyone, and welcome to…” But after a year, something changes, and the questions creep up, “What is actually happening? Why is it so difficult to...? OMG, another business closed or left?

Based on my experiences as a most recent “brick & mortar” small business owner in the city of Woodbury (Pre-pandemic, then pandemic) many things became apparent to me - good and bad.

The Good: The community really wanted and encouraged small businesses to come into the city. The community support was AMAZING. When the time was right to expand, the residents and our customers helped us to grow our business by way of crowdfunding, patronizing our business, and spreading the word.

The Bad: I was on an island, fighting an uphill battle, looking for resources and answers that would aid in sustaining and growing my business and coming up empty EVERY TIME. What do these statements mean--you ask?

“I was on an island.” As a small business owner, yes, it is my responsibility to attract as much traffic to my business as possible. But, when it came to generating traffic from residents that still didn’t know we were there and drawing additional patronage from outside of the city, we were at it alone. In 2017, 2018 the city struggled to produce city-wide events, as well as champion its current small businesses consistently and cohesively. Instead, we were left to our own efforts with no support from City Hall (economic developer, small business liaison, etc.).

“Our business was fighting an uphill battle.” Our city’s economic development has been quasi-plagued for years. Over the course of 20 years, the residents have seen redevelopment plan after redevelopment plan, study after study with no action, talks of a train that will lead to redevelopment, with no action, just obstacles, and the revolving door of economic developers, business administrators, and small businesses that can’t sustain. Thus, the city is left trapped in economic limbo, affecting many of the small businesses who so excitedly placed their business in Woodbury.

"I was looking for resources and answers that would aid in sustainability and growth." As I scoured the internet to find resources available to small businesses like mine, I thought it best to visit our city’s website FIRST--only to be met with non-functional “zombie links” to defunct resource websites, resources or banks that no longer exist, and even an economic development hotline which no one ever answered. The questions then became: Am I the only small business owner experiencing this in this city? Is there a way to fix this? Can we do anything? And the answers are: No, I am not, and: Yes, we can.

As we walk forward in our journey to re-envision, re-invigorate, re-structure our city-wide small business district, I must encourage the city of Woodbury and any new or veteran city council members to:

  • Start and continue first-person conversations with small business owners who have recently opened a business in the city, small business owners who have been here fighting the good fight for years, and small business owners who have closed or relocated their businesses outside of Woodbury to truly get a sense of what the city and its city council members can do to to help improve our small business support infrastructure. Please don’t pawn off the responsibilities of building a support system to our non-profit organizations, because they, too, need the support of the city. They can’t do it alone.

  • Actively seek local and reputable resources that will aid our small business owners with sustaining their businesses while we A) still fight the pre-pandemic problems of our city-wide small business district, and B) continue to lift ourselves up after the pandemic. We had small business district problems prior to the pandemic, and now we must fight even harder, smarter, and more creatively to bring sustainable solutions to the table that are outside of the typical Covid-19 bank loans the federal government is promoting.

No, change doesn’t happen overnight, but change takes longer - or never happens at all - when you don’t know what to do, where to start, or ask the right questions to the people who matter: our residents and business owners.

As your next city councilwoman in Ward 3, I will actively strive to keep the communication gates OPEN with all of our city-wide small business owners. I will consistently aim to find reputable and relevant resources that our small business owners can count on and feel comfortable getting advice from. And, I look forward to being a city councilperson with whom our small business owners feel comfortable and confident voicing their concerns, questions, and suggestions, in order to enhance and sustain our small businesses for years to come. We have a lot of hard work to do and I look forward to doing the work WITH YOU.

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