The Canby City Council's first meeting in May typically has been a sort-of a proclamation night for the city and this year proved to be no different — a point that came around to confront the council later in the evening.
Mayor Brian Hodson read aloud six proclamations that named May 2017 Water Safety Month, Walk and Bike Challenge Month and Historic Preservation Month, and also drew attention to Public Works Week, National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Food Drive Day and Poppy Days in Canby.
A Canby citizen representing the interests of each proclamation said a few words of thanks to the council before the conversation pivoted to the meat of the meeting.
Per usual, Mayor Hodson invited individuals to speak for three minutes and first up was Shawn Varwig, owner of downtown business Judson Roy Home Furnishings and a Canby planning commissioner who ran for one of three open city council positions last October.
Varwig said he was speaking on behalf of local business owners, specifically those with retail shops downtown, who are frustrated with what seems to be little desire on the part of the city to support small businesses in Canby.
"It's important for you to know that we're feeling a bit unappreciated," Varwig said. "I'm not sure if you're aware of this or not, but this week is National Small Business Week, and I don't mean to discount the other great events that received proclamations tonight but it seems that during National Small Business Week there would have been one about small businesses as well."
The city of Canby's Main Street program has a mission statement and that is to carry out the Canby urban renewal plan to ensure economic vitality of the downtown commercial district, to revitalize business, and the street environment and enhance Canby's identity through the promotion of downtown, Varwig said.
"So, the question I ask: Is the city doing its best to carry out its own mission statement in regards to our downtown businesses, or are budget cuts and savings more important than those of us who spent our life savings trying to supply a need we believe exists within the city we love?" Varwig asked. "I can only provide instances that relate to me personally but I'm sure some of my colleagues and downtown businesses can tell you other stories as well."
Varwig's statements echo the concerns of other downtown business owners, notably Cheryl Frampton, owner of the Big White Goose on First Avenue.
Frampton manifested a meeting last fall with Canby Area Chamber of Commerce Director Mallory Gwynn, City Administrator Rick Robinson and Mayor Hodson to discuss her frustration with what she sees as the Canby Main Street program's lack of personal involvement in Canby's downtown retail businesses.
"There is a prevailing attitude here of, 'My business is doing fine so why should I care?" Frampton previously told the Herald. "That has to stop and people have to start working together to find ways to promote downtown Canby and the city as a whole."
"So many people, including those who live here, don't even realize what downtown has to offer. I don't know how many people I've talked to that have come into my store and said they never knew there was anything downtown worth coming for."
Varwig said his main point is this: how can business owners expect the people of Canby to support local businesses if the people who run Canby do not themselves support them?
"Some of you have never even set foot inside of my business," he said. "Some of you have been in there a time or two at my invitation. Other spend significant time there and I appreciate that. One of my favorite quotes is … a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. City council, city staff, you are the leaders and we need your support to ensure the economic vitality of our businesses."
Hodson said this is a conversation piece he's had many times with business owners about how "best to push things down the field, and we are."
"It's hard to see the little things we've been working on and have been trying to do and get accomplished," Hodson said. "There are challenges that are self-imposed on us — the City — that we need to do better with and we are trying to work on those things and do better. We have a downtown that when we look at other communities around us — we have a great asset in our downtown."
Hodson said city officials have been asked on numerous occasions why the council voted to invest millions (by building a four-story, mixed-use, 69-unit downtown complex, called "The Dahlia") in downtown Canby.
"I believe if we lose our downtown we lose a huge identity piece of Canby," Hodson said.
Hodson said there is "a marketing piece we need to be working on," but there is no single silver bullet that is going to solve every problem. "We're at that point hopefully with the economy turning the way it is we can make that investment in staff to do the things we've wanted to do," he said.
Varwig said he had one suggestion for the City that would cost nothing. "We would like to see you guys more often," he said. "Please visit just to say hi. City council, city staff — anybody. We might know that you're with us if we see you. Even if we can't do anything financially about it as long as we know you're there and you care."
Robinson said Frampton has been working to orchestrate a downtown business alliance to work on initiatives that would help all businesses in Canby, and that she is seeking others to get involved.
"I know that she would appreciate other businesses getting as excited as you and she are — coming together, bringing ideas forward and seeing if there is something we can do with them," Robinson said. "I think that's the key. It's not the city fixing small business problems; it's the city and small businesses getting together and finding ways to solve a common problem."
To read the mayor's proclamations in full, as well as the entire city council packet for its May 3 meeting, visit the city's website at http://www.canbyoregon.gov/CityGovernment/council/documents/05-03-2017CCPacket.pdf.