Who is responsible, and what impact does it have on Monroe business owners?
Recently, the Monroe business climate has turned very negative toward local business owners, with many complaining of negative backlash from social media comments. The result? An ugly dialogue among neighbors that leaves many local businesses very unsettled.
Some have shuttered their doors, others have moved, and many are left wondering how the Monroe business climate turned so negative.
“Believe it or not, bashing small businesses goes on and it is moronic,” said one local business owner when asked about their experience. “They did it to Big Mike’s once they closed, Star Liquors, have started doing it to Raina’s (which is the re-opening of Big Mike’s in a new location), and now Mill Pond Dry Cleaners. Plus you have business that have closed or moved like Baroque Antiques and Mister Cone,” referring to the ice-cream vendor’s recent decision to close and sell his property.
And there appears to be little reason other than individual opinions and catty gossip, not goods or services.
From Main Street to Big Box.
The backlash against Monroe business appears to be centered around Main Street types of shops and services. That climate of negativity makes it difficult to appeal to new businesses opportunities in town. One outcome is a stagnant and vacant Lake Street business district where rents are high and parking is a premium. The result for Monroe is a noticeable lack of local color and character. This, in a town where the primary restaurant cuisine is pizza. Unfortunately, little else appears sustainable.
The same fate cannot be said for the Big Box counterparts adjacent to Routes 6 and 17, which attract the runoff from Woodbury Common. The larger chain retailers and restaurants, including Outback, BJ’s Wholesale, Homegoods and others have not been targeted by nasty online critiquing. The resulting message is that the Monroe business climate is favorable only to national retailers but not to unique, local offerings.
Not even the partly occupied Monroe Theater (a.k.a. Town of Monroe Arts & Civic Center) has been a meaningful draw for the village business district.
But how did this all start?
The origins of Monroe business hostility.
Some of this began as misguided rhetoric against members of the Monroe Town Board. A recent public spat involved Star Liquors being patronized by Monroe Town Comptroller Peter Martin. The resulting commentary was ratcheted up when United Monroe chairperson Emily Convers entered the fray with her statements. Oddly, while the criticism tarnished the business, none of it was specific to any issues with service or product. Only someone noted as patronizing the business. That Star Liquors did not host a United Monroe collection jar as it wanted to take no part in politics was also noted publicly. Others followed suit based solely on the inference of a grass-roots leader.
In hindsight, that appears to have been a wise decision. But the resulting inference — that if a business did not support United Monroe by hosting posters, events, or fund-raising efforts, it could be subject to negative commentary — reflected poorly on the judgment of the grass-roots organization and has made fund-raising more difficult. Other Monroe business owners, such as Bagel World, have since displaced their donation jars, perhaps fearing they could be the next target of backlash or retribution.
The other result according to one local business owner? “Who do these people think offset their taxes, bring commerce into the community, and bring visitors into Monroe? When will they learn?”
Social Media influence.
The advent of social media outlets such as Facebook can boost awareness of local businesses and services. And Facebook groups such as Monroe Helps contribute to the spirit of customer recommendations for Monroe business. But other social media groups and pages have become a haven for the discontented to offer up criticisms of businesses based on which customers they serve. Worse still, many are targeted because of a personal disagreement unrelated to commerce.
For Mill Pond Dry Cleaners, the comments have had nothing to do with the quality of services. They have been solely critical of the owner. We also spoke with a national retailer about their own criteria for establishing locations. In addition to using demographic research, they’ve started including social media crawls in their investigations. And they’re quick to shy away from communities where the business climate is hostile. “We choose locations in a community that is not as divisive and more willing to have us, even if that’s a few minutes away,” said one highly-placed source who does location development and planning for a national retailer. “Our customers know where to find us because they want us there.”
Open doors or shuttered stores?
As the Monroe business climate continues hostile, businesses will likely locate to friendlier communities who are more open to supporting that retailer. Even as Rockland County copes with competing cultures, businesses have thrived and been supported more than in Monroe.
Monroe may be left with an empty shell of a business district as that trend continues. Or represent a trend that even a favorable tax climate will not overcome. The area may be left with a perception that residents aren’t willing to support and shop local. This helps explain the Warwick-effect. Nearby Warwick has a thriving Chamber of Commerce with businesses that cooperate, and highlighted by local events. This includes the Sunday farmer’s market that draws from the surrounding area and creates business traffic. Monroe, meanwhile, struggles with residents, civic and grass-roots leaders who make statements that are detrimental for Monroe business owners.
For recently closed Baroque Antiques, that means a move across county and state lines. “You cannot make a comment questioning United Monroe as a business-person in this town without people attacking you personally,” said owner Cindy Whidden. “Saying anything results in Emily (Convers) emerging and crying how she’s an unpaid volunteer to gain sympathy. It alienates people. It’s obnoxious. I’d rather leave.”