Profile of
Merchants Association

Downtown merchants and business owners see the downtown as strictly a commercial area, and feel that a city's policies and programs should be focused on business growth. They see as good city programs that enhance the retail environment (e.g., parking, streetscape improvements) and as irrelevant or counter-productive city programs that, in their minds, inhibit commercial activity (e.g., historic districts, development review).

Merchants work jointly through a downtown merchants association, which typically is involved in promotional activities and events, but usually does not get concerned with issues of development and growth. In this way, merchants often see themselves and the city at cross-purposes; they see themselves as promoters of the downtown while city officials are viewed as regulators. The Tyler survey of downtowns found that merchants consider one of their biggest obstacles to success to be city officials and local government, largely because of this assumption of being on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to downtown revitalization priorities.

Downtowns that have bridged this gap have established an organizational structure that includes both the business sector and the city, working cooperatively toward commonly defined goals. In some cities, this has been a newly created umbrella organization, such as a "Downtown Anytown, Inc." Other cities have used the Downtown Development Authority structure, a local tax-revenue authority oriented to downtowns, as a vehicle for cooperation. Downtowns which want to use historic preservation to enhance their downtown retail environment have successfully utilized the Main Street Program, created and sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Local Chambers of Commerce are typically focused on industrial growth and jobs, but in some cities they have also given equal time to downtowns, and have been successful agents for revitalization. There are a variety of ways the interests of merchants can be successfully addressed, but only when such interests are aligned with the larger interests of city government and the public in general.