Business as Unusual

ioof park 0320

Yesterday Pat’s Screen Printing was the recipient of at least three acts of kindness, along with some questionable assistance from a new countywide task force.

Before I could call him, our landlord, Dan Rundell, called us and cut the rent in half for the next couple of months. He called from Grand Junction, where he spends winters near his son, and said there has been only one covid-19 case down there.

Later in the day Paula Swenson, who found herself the de facto owner of her husband’s internet-provider business after he abruptly died last year, sent out an April bill for $0 to their retail and lodging customers. I have on occasion in this blog expressed exasperation with the frequency with which this company’s service goes down, but I have stuck with it because they are local, always answer the phone, and send technicians right away. And now this.

Shortly before Kara went home for the day, Shawn Williams of SAW Contracting (get it? It’s his initials, including his middle name, and a construction tool) placed an order. Kara told him she thought she could keep him at last year’s price, and he made things very clear: the lumber company tried to give him a large discount on his purchase, and he told them, same as he was telling us, to charge whatever we need to.

It’s called taking care of our own, something we practice a lot in Gunnison, and it’s a better reason than the scenery, which is substantial, to live here.

But this may be the pandemic that breaks downtown. A business task force has been assembled — probably by the county, although it appears that the unfortunately named ICELab, located on but not of the Western Not State campus, may be the spearhead, along with TAPP, although I can’t tell you what that is. The TA part is Tourism Association, a public entity funded by a lodging tax, but you’ve got me on the PP. I think this was part of the reorganization where Western recognized ICE for the money drain it was and fobbed it off on public officials more enthused about “economic development.”

(ICE, by the way, stands for Innovation, Creativity, Entrepreneurship — I think — but that’s not what comes to mind. If ever something needed rebranding, it’s the agency that talks to us about branding.)

Perhaps you are hearing some cynicism in here, in amongst the I’m-very-worried-and-will-grasp-at-any-straw mentality held by the owners of Pat’s Screen Printing and probably every other small business in the valley.

Let’s go back at least two years, if not three, to when the OVPP (One Valley Propserity Project, I believe), after meeting endlessly and soliciting valleywide input from multiple meetings, focus groups, food gatherings, etc., decided that the one thing that would best bring prosperity to our little corner of the world would be a revitalization of downtown Gunnison. (I’m in the camp with the man who said, “All of those meetings and that’s what they came up with?”)

This of course resulted in yet another task force, and while I — a former firm believer in participating — had not attended a single OVPP event, I did find myself on a group whose acronym I can’t recall. Something something Downtown Leadership Group, maybe.

I was faithfully attending all of those meetings, and at an early one the publisher of the Gunnison paper said something along the lines of seeing these groups form over and over, and how important it was to DO something. Anything. No matter how small.

But it turned out that this was yet another of these groups aiming for The Big Picture, and despite suggestions of little things (one of the people in the thick of any group you can think of, who co-owns a bike/coffee shop with her husband, did put up a sidewalk patio), almost nothing has been done.

We have this pocket park downtown. It used to be the IOOF (International Order of OddFellows) building, but one New Year’s it burned down and became a city park that is mostly denuded grass and a pair of bathrooms, open only in the warm months.

Waaaaay back in 2007, during my community activist years, I sat on a “stakeholder group” organized by the city to come up with a Big Picture for the park. One business owner wanted to close off part of the adjacent street and make it a plaza, another wanted to extend the park behind his building . . . after an entire summer of meetings, the one (one!) thing we settled on was that the city should make a concerted effort to spruce up the park.

Which we’re still waiting for.

So then, perhaps 10-11 years later, yet another downtown group decided to do Big Things, many of them involving this same park. We are still waiting for a single change to take place in the park, even down to the “sprucing up.”

I stopped going to these downtown meetings when it became apparent that while the leaders said they wanted community input, what they really were desirous of was an echo chamber to support what they already knew to be the answers.

I went to one “public input” meeting, where organizers later congratulated themselves on the number of attendees, and listened to an entire wall-full of consultants take turns talking, interspersed with comments from the committee. They never even realized how little input the “public” provided.

Yesterday many of these very same people, OVPP, TAPP and whatever acronym I can’t remember, assembled a task force and hosted a Zoom meeting (a technology I had not heard of prior to Wednesday but which could become omnipresent in the time of cholera).

I would like to step outside my cynicism for one small moment and say that I understand these folks genuinely have the valley’s best interests at heart, and really want to see business succeed (except for the bar located right next to the coffee shop, which offends every sensibility the coffee-bike owners possess), but — and here I step back into the cynical, if I hadn’t already —

What we got yesterday was a message of cheer that wasn’t cheery at all. The director of TAPP provided a recounting intended to be inspirational of how Tylenol survived its near demise after someone laced their pills with cyanide back in 1982. (Do you suppose he knows that Johnson & Johnson has a couple more dollars than any Gunnison business owner?) Then he read a post from the TAPP Facebook page that went on at great and florid length to all our absent visitors about how privileged we are to be locked down in such a beautiful part of the world, bicycling our cares away, while they can’t visit.

Then we were told that there are subgroups, which commenters pointed out didn’t provide for real estate, non-profit or other sectors of our local economy, and we should sign up for the appropriate subgroup. They did, on the county’s covid response page, provide a list of business resources they have gathered.

Twelve minutes in, the meeting was done. Kara and I had watched it together, me standing six feet away from her — we are taking this virus threat very seriously — and Kara, with only the benefit of the city’s meetings to revitalize the street on which she lives, was incredulous. “That’s it?” she exclaimed. “I thought they were going to offer something useful.”

Because we’re very worried and grasping at every straw, she signed us up for the retail subgroup, but I believe both of us are of the same mind: this is not going to be as much assistance as we hoped.

In the meantime there were Mr. Rundell, Paula and Shawn, each of them with their own small, tangible action that helped us out.

It is good to be in Gunnison.


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