Outgoing president of Multnomah Village Business Association helping businesses cope
EDITOR'S NOTE: When the following interview was conducted with Erin Primrose in early March, the main concern for merchants was pending road work on Southwest Capitol Highway. Since then Primrose has been actively working with small businesses on the appropriate responses to the coronavirus slowdown.
As work crews prepare to tear up Multnomah Village's "Main Street," the leader of the local business association is "transitioning," as she puts it, meaning that whoever replaces her will face an immediate challenge: surviving another several months of road work on Southwest Capitol Highway.
Erin Primrose, a principal broker with Living Room Realty, replaced Jason Lensch as president of the Multnomah Village Business Association in January 2018. She will step down from the post soon after a new president is elected in April.
She and her husband, Kyle, have lived in Multnomah Village for 12 years and have two children, aged 10 and 7.
"Both of my parents were small business owners affording me great understanding and empathy for the challenges and rewards that come with the territory," she wrote. The MVBA currently has 104 members.
Primrose, who conducts monthly meetings with a casual camaraderie, answered a few questions about how businesses are doing these days in Multnomah Village. Here's here responses, edited for brevity and clarity.
SWCC - The MVBA puts on more events than any other business district association. Barb Cantonwine, owner of Healthy Pets NW on Southwest Troy Street, said that of the three associations she belongs to, "This one is different." How so?
PRIMROSE - We definitely do put on more events than any other district in Portland, and we are one of the smallest, so harnessing enough volunteers to make it happen has proven the biggest challenge. The community has grown to love all of the MVBA coordinated events, and even though so much work goes on behind the scenes it is always worth it to see the smiles on your neighbors faces and the store fronts and eateries bustling.
SWCC - What's your favorite event?
PRIMROSE - I love Holiday Gala! So many years of memories made with our family and neighborhood friends. It really does capture the magic of the holiday season.
SWCC - What's Multnomah Village's competitive advantage for small businesses?
PRIMROSE - The Village being surrounded by so many neighborhoods, yet close to the city, has great exposure to people looking to stay and play and visitors alike. There is a wide range of variety already existing in the district, but definitely room to expand upon in terms of amenities that the community would like to see. Many of the businesses in the Village have been open for 20 years or more which says a lot as far as staying power goes.
SWCC - What's the competitive disadvantage?
PRIMROSE - Parking! In my dreams I envision a parking structure at the back parking lot of the Multnomah Arts Center (I might ruffle some feathers with that one) that could accommodate more visitors. That alone would have a dramatic positive economic impact on our district businesses. It might also relieve our neighbors on the side streets who have folks parking in front of their homes all of the time.
SWCC - What's the biggest thing people don't realize about Multnomah Village?
PRIMROSE - It really is a small town within a big city. If you live here, you will see a familiar face every time you venture into the Village. I get to see a lot of districts and communities in my job, and there really is no other place quite as special. Sometimes it feels like you've stepped back in time, which is so comforting in this fast-paced world we live in.
SWCC - What's your assessment of the business climate in Multnomah Village and the Portland area?
PRIMROSE - I'm feeling that there is some nervousness with the unknowns right now, which is always unsettling and a bit contagious actually (no pun intended on the coronavirus). I also think that as easy as the Amazon's of the world are, people still have a yearning to use their physical senses when making purchases, and I see it in full force when out in our community. We like to support and encourage our business owners to think outside the box on how to weather any storm and stay afloat.
SWCC - How is the MVBA helping businesses cope with the Capitol Highway work upcoming?
PRIMROSE - At this point it is all about communication with the city and staying on top of timelines that appear to be fluid, with the understanding that we can only change so much. I try to have an opportunity to discuss updates, fears and ideas at each meeting because it really does take a village and also feels cathartic to know we are all in this together. After last year's round of construction, it became that much more important to have a liaison whose only role is to advocate for the needs of our business owners with the powers that be at City Hall.
SWCC - The MVBA is looking for a volunteer advocate to keep track of Portland City Hall policies and decisions that affect Multnomah Village businesses. How important is that relationship with City Hall? Especially PBOT.
PRIMROSE - In my opinion this is definitely one of the most crucial roles that is needed right now in our district. In the past, we were so lucky to have Randy Bonella who acted as a liaison to city council and Venture Portland. Now that we have new members of city council, and Randy is no longer part of the MVBA, we are hopeful to fill the void by placing a point person to advocate for our district as well as forge relationships with members of City Council, PBOT and City of Portland. Right now, we are facing three huge construction projects that will have an impact on our district and the livelihoods of our small business owners and their employees. Now more than ever, we need a strong voice who has clout with the appropriate folks to make the voices of our members heard and protect their interests. We hope to source a great candidate and add them to the board prior to my departure.
For information about joining and/or volunteering with the Multnomah Village Business Association, and finding out what help the organization can provide to small businesses dealing with the coronvirus:
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