When Downtown Business Association “President for Life” Larry Spencer passed away in September, Jill Ramiel, owner of the Silverbow Bakery & Inn and a longtime DBA board member, said the small organization was thrown off. But instead of giving up on its mission to improve downtown business, the group — only five board members strong at the time — rallied together to nominate new leadership and set goals for itself.
Spencer’s death “made us have to rethink everything,” Ramiel said. “The existing five of us hit the pavement talking to people.”
At a Monday morning meeting at the Juneau Economic Development Center, the board announced Ramiel will be leading the organization as president. Red Dog Saloon’s Eric Forst is DBA’s new vice president; The Rookery’s Travis Smith is treasurer; and Shoefly & Hudsons’ Sydney Mitchell is secretary.
The board of 10 downtown business owners discussed their plans for the organization, made up of about 65 businesses, and established four committees: Finance, Infrastructure and Development, Marketing and Membership. The group talked about methods of recruiting new businesses to the association and when to set the deadline for membership dues. One problem that was identified was the lack of visibility of the organization, something the Marketing Committee will tackle.
The association will meet once a month, the next meeting being 3 p.m. Nov. 26 at the JEDC. Ramiel said she’d ultimately like the location of the meeting to change each time, moving all around downtown.
“I think it’s a great idea,” agreed board member Evelyn Rousso of NorthWind Architects. “It will get us out in the community.”
Mitchell said during the meeting she was impressed with how much the board got done Monday, citing the enthusiasm of the group for pulling the DBA out of the doldrums.
“The passing of our president, Larry Spencer, kind of threw our organization into a tailspin,” she said. “I think this organization was floundering.”
Ramiel said after the meeting that she hopes to keep the DBA on the right track by working in tandem with the JEDC, which has ongoing plans for downtown revitalization, especially in the Willoughby District.
“It’s exciting and there’s a lot of new things happening downtown,” Ramiel said. “A lot of people are looking into these issues.”
A problem she’s identified is the lack of people downtown on the weekend — most customers spend their money downtown during workweek lunch breaks, she said. Business owners need to invest in their companies to get people to stick around, whether that be storefront improvement or adding or fixing up attached apartments.
“The more of them (customers) that leave, the harder it is for us to exist,” Ramiel said.
Through the DBA, Ramiel said she hopes to draw attention to the cool places that already exist downtown.
“Like Pat Race’s shop (Alaska Robotics),” she said. “What a great, weird little place. And Wild Oven, Pie in the Sky, all these great little pockets of awesomeness.”
Through its own downtown improvement efforts, JEDC is offering cash prizes to downtown businesses that most improve their storefronts, spokeswoman Marie Franklin said. The contest encourages business owners to repair and refurbish existing facades, as well as add awnings, new color schemes, landscaping, lighting and signage. The application and a full list of rules can be found online at www.jedc.org/juneau-downtown-revitalization. Submissions are due by May 15, 2014, and awards will be announced June 30, 2014.
Ramiel said now that the DBA is back in full swing, she’s optimistic about where things are headed.
“It is in our grasp to have a vibrant downtown,” she said.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.