MURRAY —The City of Murray Downtown Revitalization Committee was put together because of the belief that this section can be more vibrant and attractive to visitors and potential business owners.
That means its members will use any means necessary to develop ideas to accomplish this mission. One way to work toward that goal is to talk to people who have found success in this area.
This is why the committee last week welcomed a pair of officials from a place whose downtown is currently thriving, nearby Paris, Tennessee, to discuss its program and how some of its ideas might translate to success in Murray. To start with, Executive Director Kathy Ray of the Downtown Paris Association emphasized that this cannot be driven by a chosen few.
“On our executive board, we have someone from the chamber of commerce, the city council, businesses, a wide group of different people who all have good ideas,” Ray said during last week’s meeting at City Hall. “It’s set up with with folks who contribute.”
That goes for the association members. Ray said there are 145 members, but they are not just from the downtown area.
“It’s from across the entire community and even outside of Henry County, because those people do business with downtown and realize the importance of supporting the center of the community. We also have people who drive through downtown and they say, ‘Oh! I want to live in a place like this,’” Ray said, adding that the downtown area of Paris is also quite a busy area.
“We have 125 days where something is happening in downtown Paris (according to a brochure she distributed during the meeting) and it’s not just store sales or promotion of an event. We’ve got 32 active committees represented in the Downtown Paris Association, so it’s a wide reach.
“Now, it doesn’t always please merchants when you talk about, ‘Oh, we’re having an event when you’re not open.’ But let’s say we’re having a cruise-in (car and vehicle show) and they see your downtown then. Even though they’re not open, those people are seeing your stores and they see what they offer. They’re going to come back, and they should.”
Ray said everyone has gifts and needs to use them. She said that is true in Murray too.
“Everybody sitting around this table has a gift. We are required to share those gifts, so I just encourage everyone and I guess my speech here to everyone who has an interest in our community is ‘get involved,’” she said. “Find out what you need to know. You love being here and you bring people here.
“You’re not here to hear about Paris, though, and what we’re doing. What can we do to help you answer questions?”
The Murrayans had plenty of questions.
“How do you recruit business to downtown?” asked committee member Alice Rouse, leading off the questioning session that would last about 20 minutes. Ray once again emphasized the team concept.
“I’m not the only one that does it,” she said. “It’s the chamber, city government, our own merchants. They all work together.”
Ray then passed the baton to her fellow Paris representative for the day, Paris-Henry County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Travis McLeese, and he took another question from Rouse about parking, which is something that has become a mission of the committee to rectify in Murray.
He said that overcrowding of downtown parking lots should be seen as a positive.
“I’ll take you to a downtown that doesn’t have any cars. It’s very simple; no cars, no money,” McLeese said. “That’s actually a pretty great problem to have.”
“We have large parking lots on all four corners of our downtown that are public parking,” Ray added, recalling her time of managing a bank in downtown Paris and a policy she enforced with her employees. “I had all of my employees park at a corner lot one block from the bank. If I came out at lunch and saw one of their cars parked anywhere else, I’d go back into the bank and ask, ‘Uh, have you been to lunch or are you just coming back for a minute?’ ‘No ma’am.’ ‘OK, move your car.’ Everybody knew where to park because we needed to keep those places open for customers.
“Studies show that when a person pulls into a parking space, they have got to see the door. It’s got to be straight on site to where they’re going or they’re not parking there, and they’re probably not going there.”
McLeese also told of a forthcoming study his chamber is preparing to undertake that will try to determine why people will park well away from a major retail store but will not decide to walk a shorter distance to go to a store in a downtown area.
“We’ll park in the back of a (large retail store) parking lot and walk to the milk jugs in the very back. So, really, if you’re willing to park in the back of (said business) and are willing to park in front of these businesses (downtown), then how far would you be willing to park away from a store downtown?” he said. “Marketing is everything. Perception is everything.”
McLeese also added that workers in the Henry County Courthouse must park at a lot two blocks away. However, she said there is a system at work in Paris that eventually shows appreciation to those workers for choosing to do this.
“You have to find ways to engage them in other areas. In Paris, there’s what is called ‘Government Day,’ and there is always somebody that prepares Oreo balls and will go to all of those government officials to give them just a simple ‘thank you’ for how they contribute to our downtown,” he said. “What they’re saying is that you parking two blocks away every day is just as valuable as you writing a check.
“It’s a community thing. It’s a lifestyle and so basically everyone knows that it’s important. We’re all selling that property that just opened up. We’re all supporting those government officials. If we’re not, it’s just Kathy nagging people every day. We don’t want that! We want everybody to get on board.”