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BaBB to conduct market analysis survey of downtown area

BRATTLEBORO—A vibrant downtown filled with shoppers, community events and thriving business.

This vision guides Building a Better Brattleboro (BaBB) as the organization plans for a market analysis survey in partnership with urban planning firm Arnett Muldrow & Associates.

“To be armed with this information can be quite powerful,” said BaBB Executive Director Andrea Livermore.

One of Livermore’s goals for the survey is to have scientific data detailing what businesses could thrive in Brattleboro so that BaBB can use the data to recruit business owners. It also can be shared with downtown property owners and existing businesses.

Urban planner Tripp Muldrow of Arnett Muldrow introduced the survey and its goals to a group of 11 downtown property owners, business owners and employees at the River Garden on Thursday night.

Arnett Muldrow will study shopping habits in Brattleboro using zip codes gathered by 10 to 30 downtown businesses over 7-10 days.

The firm will look at where shoppers come from, where their dollars go within the downtown and, importantly, where their dollars “leak” out of the downtown — such as the tax-free shopping centers in Keene, N.H., or to buy products and services not currently available in Brattleboro.

Responding to audience members’ concerns about Brattleboro dollars “bleeding” to Keene, Muldrow said that “sales tax and current land use are factors. New Hampshire has capitalized on that, but so has Vermont capitalized [on its strengths] in its own way. You never know what the data will bear out.”

Towns have an general idea of who shops downtown and where the shopping dollars go, but Muldrow said the data from the zip code collection is useful to see the reality of a downtown.

He cited the example of Springfield, Vt., a town that thought it didn’t get a lot of tourist dollars. However, the zip code survey showed visits from people from as far away as Alaska and Utah.

He said he told Springfield town officials and business owners, “You can fight this all you want, but you should embrace them [visitors] because they want to leave you money.”

After the zip code collection, Arnett Muldrow will offer BaBB recommendations for how to best ensure thriving businesses’ continued success, how to shore up existing businesses and attract new ones, and how to market the downtown district over the next five years.

Muldrow stressed focusing on local dollars and strategies that deliver immediate, low-cost benefits, before focusing on tourism dollars.

“[People] tend to pick the biggest elephant and chew on it, while leaving the bits of easy candy on the ground,” he said.

Livermore anticipates the survey will be conducted late October or early November. Arnett Muldrow will compare the data against a 2009 zip code collection conducted by BaBB and local businesses. The process will take until January 2011.

“The One and Only [Brattleboro] brand says who we are. We don’t need to brand ourselves, but use Tripp’s data as a compliment to work smarter, not harder,” said Livermore.

Funds to hire Arnett Muldrow came from Brattleboro Savings & Loan and People’s United Bank, said Livermore.

Livermore met Muldrow at the annual retreat of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation’s Vermont Downtown Program. Muldrow has consulted for many communities including Rutland, St. Albans and Burlington.

Arnett Muldrow & Associates, based in Greenville, S.C., specializes in planning and development for small communities, said Muldrow. The largest community it has worked with had a population of 60,000.

“Vermont loves Tripp. He knows this stuff inside and out,” said Livermore.

Audience members said they looked forward to seeing the survey’s results.

Gail Nunziata, managing director of the Brattleboro Arts Initiative and the Latchis Corporation, said she looked forward to seeing if what retailers’ image of who shopped in town would match the survey results.

Property owner Jonathan Chase, owner of Chase Company LLC and the Brooks House, said he thought the survey would be useful, especially if Muldrow’s recommendations were implemented, an idea echoed by Lynn Barrett, founder and president of Primetime Concepts, Inc.

Livermore and Muldrow said they’d work to find funding sources to match the recommendations after the survey was completed.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #65 (Wednesday, September 1, 2010).

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