NEWBERRY — Local business owners held an open forum at Newberry City Council to voice concern over what they call a dying town.
Denise Polifrone started the discussing by telling council the downtown was dying and the revitalization process ended when the Opera House was completed.
“We have gone backwards,” she said of the work to build up Main Street and the downtown and added that 50 percent of the storefronts are vacant.
She added the businesses were also seeing decreased customers and less events to bring people downtown.
“With every business that closes the rest suffer,” Polifrone said, adding there is a loss of vision.
Polifrone, who owns the Blue Moon which recently closed, added that the city collects a 2 percent hospitality tax on prepared food and drinks from city businesses. She told council they were just using the tax, which she believes is an unfair burden, to promote the Opera House and Firehouse Conference Center, which are managed by the city.
She added the Opera House is not making a profit and is being supported by the tax payers.
Polifrone added that the Opera House is a low percentage of customers shopping at local businesses.
She also adds that the conference center has turned into a spot for local parties and receptions. Polifrone says the conference center has cut prices where local businesses can not compete for the same price and are losing bookings for gatherings.
She also told council that the police force was over zealous and that issues need to be discussed so everyone is on the same page.
She added that a person cannot go outside the Blue Moon to wait for a ride without getting arrested and then the person picking them up is stopped when they leave the area.
However, Mayor Foster Senn said he was proud of the police department and some complaints had been passed on to council and the issues would be looked into.
“The downtown is dying and needs intervention or the next downtown event we are going to have is a pigeon shoot,” she said referring to a time before the revitalization of downtown when pigeon roosting in the empty buildings were shot. “We need a vision of a New-berry.”
Munson Summer, who owns a music store, had similar concerns saying children hanging out at his business were sent home by police due to a curfew law.
However, city leaders say there is no curfew in the town.
He also complained that police officers sit in running cars watching his students perform when they should be out on the streets riding bikes or walking to monitor the downtown area instead of in idling vehicles.
He added having problems allowing students to perform outside his shop during festivals due to stages being set up there and that event coordinators refused to work with him to solve the issues and that police were called in to support those running the stage.
Summer added that city leaders rally around businesses on Wilson Road and do not help the downtown area.
“There is a lack of vision,” he said.
He suggested the town go back to its motto of being a town of friendly folks and needed to be built up so people will come.
“Also we are not Wal-Mart, so why do we hold a Christmas tree lighting in November?” asked Summer.
Both Summer and Polifrone both suggested a coordinator be hired to coordinate efforts between the city and merchants.
Senn said the business owners gave the council a lot of things to look at and the council would come back to them with ideas.
He added there is an effort to get more locals to shop downtown and to do street scaping on Main Street.
“We are hoping for a good Christmas season,” he said.
Councilman Zebbie Goudelock said his name is in The Observer weekly and no one ever calls him with complaints and he appreciated the comments and the large crowd at the meeting.
“Come to council with your problems. We are here to build Newberry. It is sad to see doors closing and we want to make this a better place,” said Goudelock.
The merchants called for a workshop to meet again with city council but no date for the event was set.