Local Business Owner Response

Chatham businesses are very concerned about the economic impact the proposed zoning laws will have on the future of Chatham.  While we’ve received many responses, this insightful letter from Gray Ballinger, of the People’s Pub, perfectly sums up the concerns of so many businesses.

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for your detailed and very insightful letter; I, as  Chatham Business owner, thought that this was a done deal that had passed us by and I appreciate the chance and forum to speak up. Particularly, as I cannot recall once ever being asked, so thank you very much for this opportunity to opine and further debate on the topic.

This entire response to the actions of the Town must be prefaced by the fact, stated clearly, that I was not, nor was my partner, even once approached by the Town government to offer an opinion on this matter.  We have over three years of invaluable and meticulously tracked data, which could have been pivotal to any decision-making process. As, I am sure, do many of you.

Together, we could have contributed and accurately assessed potential damages to our local economy.

This statement speaks volumes as to the extent which this Town appreciates its Main Street and the businesses that stay open to attract people, as well as pay sales tax and various other financial costs of doing business in Chatham. Now, it must be said clearly that neither my partner nor I have anything against any single person in our local government; a clear majority of the people representing this town in the local government are hard working and incredibly well intentioned with nothing but the most sincere of desires to better Chatham. Our issues remain solely with Town policies that we foresee will have a  profoundly negative effect on our ability to remain a business worth running.

The mere fact that Ellen and Chris with Bimi’s, and us with The People’s Pub, were not once approached is a travesty that also speaks to the apparent agenda behind this move; have any business owners been asked to share opinions or thoughts on this matter? It would be gross folly for any of us to assume that this action is, for lack of a better description, designed with absolute intent to create a Hostile Business Environment in Chatham. I frankly have enough time under my belt in Chatham, and additional experience in New York City and Woodstock, to know to call this action out for what it is and to recognize the economic dangers of such foolhardy actions.

This movement to restrict or ban various private business, enterprise, and invaluable economic inflow to Chatham, has been pushed through the shadows with zero consultation with the considerable business community.

That is simply not normal.

A similar set of regulations were introduced in Woodstock where it was healthily debated and challenged, ending with a compromise that left tourist accommodations in place but imposed taxes upon such business. This makes a lot of sense and furthermore, the fact that Chatham is ignoring such a lucrative source of tax revenue, says that their concern is not economic but perhaps personal.  Additionally, it reflects the brutal disregard that this Town has had towards the businesses that not only keep the Town afloat, but also keep Main Street populated, clean, well lit, and attractive for all. 

Now, I can’t claim to know any details on the Town’s motives for pushing this through because, to be frank, an effort was never made to educate us as the business owners on the projected impact of such legislation. This says to me that, perhaps, they did not foresee or understand the impact this would have on our businesses and the economic wellbeing of the Town? Or perhaps, they simply disregarded the importance of our businesses and felt they could push this through quietly.

Whichever it may be, it’s appalling as the Town is either ignorant of basic economics or they choose to ignore us and our businesses and our investments and our livelihoods and all that entails. And to be honest, we all stand to lose out economically with the passage of these restrictive set of regulations. 

To think anything less would be foolish.

To believe that tourists will visit Chatham, regardless of its obvious hostility, is just plain wrong; they will go to Hudson, Great Barrington, and a plethora of other locales that offer comparable services to chatham, again, without the hostility. This, in turn, will choke many  Chatham businesses.

The Pub would project to see a downturn in summer and fall business, and we’d expect that this projection would stand for Main Street in its entirety. This means that, as far as we stand, our sizable investment in both our Pub and in the longterm economic stability of Chatham, is about to experience a stress test that very well might become permanent.

Actually, the likelihood is extremely high that it will pass.

Angus and I certainly did not invest in Chatham just to have it change from pro-business to becoming actually hostile to not only business but the economic lifeblood that is brought to many of us by outside visitors to our Town.

Furthermore, for this all to proceed in the shadows sans debate, and at the behest of groups who may actually reside OUTSIDE of the actual Town, just puzzles me from a civic and economic standpoint. 

Regardless of how we feel as business owners, one thing is clear; unless we speak with a unified voice, this town’s policy makers will continue to disregard us as individuals. 

I would propose, to those willing and able to approach this proactively, that we consider the concept of joining together into a Main Street Business Alliance. This group would be open to all Chatham businesses and would insist on being properly invited to all business relevant meetings, and to have its opinion respectfully considered. This would be a group that together, would allow for us to take such actions and split the cost of, for instance,  the billboard in Chatham on RT 66 for relevant messaging. Or, pooling resources for legal representation with which we could demand answers and motives and use for representation, which is always more affordable split amongst many. 

Between the filthy food truck polluting our windows, the exuberant cost of water, and many other indications of neglect, it’s clear that this town’s leadership is set on ignoring the sizable business community, to the detriment of many and the benefit of a few.

Reality is, measures like this take a toll and people will indeed notice that Chatham is closed to business and outside interest. This in turn, and over some time, will result in store fronts being shuttered and our Main Street going the way of many American main streets have before. 

While Chatham is special to us all, it is certainly not unique. It will suffer because these measures will push the  tourists to simply click on the neighboring towns and avoid our area altogether. After all, where would they stay?

Whilst some of us may have the ability or option to be diversified, many do not.  If these measures pass, and we as a business are unable to make it through summer and fall, we will simply pack up and leave to somewhere that welcomes both us and our ability to contribute as well as profit.

We won’t burn through valuable assets simply treading water in a Town that doesn’t appreciate us; we’ll go somewhere where we can draw a profit and feed our families and live life free of the stresses imposed upon us in Chatham… There is far too much opportunity to be had in our Hudson Valley, an area north of 12 million some people, to simply settle for a new normal that very well might leave our businesses living day to day and the financial stresses untenable.

Ellen, I definitely appreciate the thread to contribute to this debate; again, this has been the first opportunity we’ve had to offer our thoughts. If nothing else, we hope that we all can join our voices and further debate on local matters to the betterment of Chatham and all businesses and residents. Count on us, we’ll be there tomorrow at 6pm. Hope everyone had a splendid weekend!

Sincerely,

Gray Ballinger, The People’s Pub

4 thoughts on “Local Business Owner Response

  • July 12, 2019 at 7:05 pm
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    Dear Gray, As a former weekender turned full-time Chatham resident I understand your concern. But it’s short-sighted to think that not having strong zoning will benefit either the Town or the Village. What drives the influx of weekend dollars is the combination of natural rural charm and our unique small towns. Without strong zoning we will lose the very things that attract those people and their money. Chatham can’t thrive if the majority of businesses are depending on outside dollars. The Pub you replaced was a thriving business because it was important to real people who live here full time and who were there to eat and drink sometimes on a daily basis. Prices were within reach and we were made to feel comfortable there. Too many newer businesses in the Village are not affordable to those of us who live here, just as housing is not affordable for many who work here because of the proliferation of second homes and STRs. We badly need strong zoning aimed at encouraging and protecting the things that bring people here, and that’s precisely what the Town Board is trying so hard to accomplish. It would be good to have you as an ally in that process — feel free to contact them.
    Elizabeth

    Reply
    • July 13, 2019 at 1:09 am
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      Please provide an example of where we have lost something that attracts people to this town. The town already has restrictive zoning. The new proposal is so overbearing and restrictive that it will absolutely cause people to think twice before visiting or moving to Chatham. The overwhelming majority of citizens that I have spoken to are against this type of regulation. At least 5 different law firms have been retained to litigate if passed. The Town will be in court for years. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the proposed changes wont pass ( even though I’ll make a fortune in legal fees if they do).

      Reply
  • July 12, 2019 at 8:49 pm
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    As a full time resident of Chatham, I completely agree with what Elizabeth has said. The town is working hard to maintain the great “small town” feel of the Chatham Main Street. Unfortunately a lot of mis-information is circulating. I hear it in the questions being asked at the public meetings. Rather than posting long articles in social media I recommend you go and speak with the board members in person to hear the truth.

    Reply
  • July 12, 2019 at 10:28 pm
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    With all due respect, neither of the above commenters own businesses on Main Street or understand how our small business economy and needs actually work. An intense economic study was done years ago on Chatham by people who worked for NYS in the area of economic development. Feel free to ask John Fiorillo about his findings. Judy Grunberg’s late husband, Paul Grunberg, assisted John in creating the study. Chatham businesses (and the entire economy of the town) 100% would not survive if not for second home owners and business from tourists. Tourism is our #1 revenue stream in the County. Just go to Chamber of Commerce and have an informed discussion with the President, Jeff Hunt. He’ll be happy to explain what small businesses need to survive.

    As for talking with the board, we have indeed been talking to and emailing the board for the past year and going to as many meetings as we can. This is not some issue we just started addressing two minutes ago. We have put in countless hours trying to get the board to understand our concerns about this entire proposed zoning laws, not just those related to short-term rentals and tourism.

    Regarding “strong zoning,” we have received dozens of emails from potential homebuyers who stopped looking to buy homes in Chatham directly bc of those intensely restrictive zoning laws being proposed.

    If homes are not purchased, property tax dollars are lost. If homes are not purchased, businesses suffer and revenue for the town is lost. Even the board themselves admitted last night that many of these proposed laws need to change.

    We engaged in dialogue with the board. THAT is why they are finally making the needed changes to these laws that will help Chatham stay the wonderful, quaint place it is today. A place tourist want to enjoy and residents love to live.

    Before you speak about the needs of a business owner, walk in our shoes. Educate yourself. Creating a positive environment that encourages business growth and tourism is essential for a small town’s economic survival.

    Reply

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