Sustainable Mill Valley

Local Business Survey Responses

The Issue
Much concern has been expressed about Mill Valley losing its locally based business character. Do you share this concern and how would you address it?

Maureen Parton

Yes, I am concerned about the recent loss of many locally- based businesses. Businesses are going through a period of unsettling change, and we are all feeling it with a growing sense of unease. I wish I had a crystal ball to help solve this troubling issue. I suspect businesses have left for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which might have been our own tendency not to shop locally if bargains were to be had elsewhere.

I suspect that change is happening for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is high land values. I make decisions based on solid information. I would work to find out why businesses are closing, including talk to recently departed ones to find out what happened and look to see what, if anything, the city could do going forward.

There are things a city can do through its power to write policies in the commercial section of our city’s constitution, known as the General Plan. We can create a robust set of business-sustaining policies and programs, including:
  • flexible planning and building advice and approvals to help sustain businesses
  • a small business emergency loan program (to help tide over unexpected emergency expenses)
  • a business improvement district created by and for merchants to address their needs
  • streetscape amenities, and
  • closer ongoing city council communication with the Chamber and non-Chamber merchants.
Our own shopping choices and patronage are vital to having a healthy business community. I would like to see a strong “support our local businesses" campaign and perhaps weave in some activities on the Depot plaza to help promote local business. How about teaming up “box dinners" from our local markets and restaurants for those concerts on the plaza?

We all benefit from a strong commercial and business sector. We don’t want a mono crop of businesses when variety and a healthy mix is vital. I believe that a plan for Miller Avenue that gets more people out walking around will help give current merchants more sales to help make them more profitable. Over time, increasing the supply of small retail space available on Miller will help increase the overall stock of rental properties thereby easing rents. The goal of a sustainable village of the 21st century, like Mill Valley, will be shopping right in town or close by ~ from a hammer to a pair of girls soccer cleats, at a good price.

Ken Wachtel

My heart is broken over the loss of so many local serving businesses such as Jenny Low’s, Capricorn, Village Music, Greenwood, and Lyla’s Chocolates this year. The business community is the engine that makes our city viable. Downtown Mill Valley is the heart of our City. I spend many wonderful hours in the downtown area watching our community come and go, play, study, teach their children and go about their lives. Mill Valley is home to a large and varied business community: including lumber yards, hardware stores, clothing stores, restaurants, grocery stores, shoe repair shops, car repair facilities, dance studios, cinema and live theatre venues, antique stores as well as video rental stores. We must work with these businesses to facilitate their success.

While I do not believe in rent or price controls, I will work with the City Council to foster success among our local serving businesses. Whether this can be implemented by a gentler conditional use permit process or other methods, needs to be studied. I do know that we should take a more active role in their success. Our local businesses and commercial landowners should also be encouraged to have a greater involvement in policy discussions and decisions so we can be sure this is a City in which they can continue to do business. Business regulations (such as hours of operation) should be flexible and creative to meet the needs of the businesses and the community. I would be in favor of a business task force to create a firm, effective and trusting relationship between local businesses, property owners and the City. We should promote our local businesses as well as the vast cultural richness available here. The bottom line is, however, that we all need to shop in our local stores so they can prosper. It is the right thing to do.

Several years ago, the City was working with a Downtown Business Alliance to form a Business Improvement District. The goals were good but the implementation was not. If our businesses are interested in this project the City Council should work to see its success.

Stephanie Moulton-Peters

My father worked for a family business that his father started in the 1920’s, and I grew up aware of how hard they worked to keep the business going through the mid 1980’s when the industry changed and consolidated, making it difficult for small family owned businesses to survive. They placed a premium on knowing their customers and giving them the best possible service. I know this is what a great many of our long time businesses have been doing, and why they are so well regarded by our residents.

As I have spent time talking to local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce, it has become apparent that the City again needs to bring focus to retaining local businesses by needs to re assembling the MV Business Task Force. In 1991 Dennis Fisco chaired the first MV Business Task Force which identified the goods and services that residents wanted and the role of local serving businesses in meeting those needs and desires. This needs to be done again. This committee should be comprised of community members who represent:
  • local businesses
  • professionals in marketing for Bay Area retail and service businesses,
  • sustainable and green economies
  • the MV Chamber of Commerce
  • local land lords
  • commercial real estate,
This combined expertise will give us the ability to understand current big picture in retail and service businesses and will enable Mill Valley to identify the specific opportunities to promote local businesses. We must take also advantage of a marvelous opportunity to reduce traffic and green house gases while supporting local businesses: by encouraging residents to patronize local serving businesses in Mill Valley. We can measure greenhouse gas savings of shopping locally. This is good for local businesses and good for the environment.

Finally, we need to put together an Action Plan, including a marketing plan, with goals and measurable objectives to retain local serving businesses, recruit new businesses, including green businesses. We need a Directory of Local Mill Valley Goods and Services for residents to refer to. We need to promote all businesses throughout the year and work to bring cultural events to the downtown and to Miller Ave. to draw shoppers to these shopping districts. Working together we can make our local shopping districts thrive.

George Gordon

I make it a point to shop in Mill Valley first, at the book depot, at the hardware store, local cleaners and for food. I might add that any item I can get in Mill Valley, I can get cheaper somewhere else, usually at a lower price. But, I would have to travel in order to make the purchases. By making a conscious choice to buy locally I help these businesses stay in business; they are also there when I need them. I have done this for years.

There are a variety of reasons for business closures in Mill Valley; some valid, some not. If your intention is to help local businesses stay in Mill Valley, you must stop creating the circumstances which cause them to fail. Mill Valley took quite sometime to create the problems that local businesses now face. When I first came to Mill Valley, no businesses were open on Sunday. They were all local businesses, and served the residents of Mill Valley. Systematically over the years, local businesses were priced out of the retail spaces they occupied and more upscale retailers replaced them. The downtown emphasis is now on attracting buyers from outside Mill Valley and all are open on Sunday for the weekend influx of tourists and visitors. The same result will occur if the current MAPP proposal is allowed to proceed.

What was done over time cannot be solved overnight. However, we can establish an interactive connection between residents and local businesses by creating a Mill Valley Resource Bank. It will allow resident to log into a local directory of businesses and service providers to find local services and goods. We can also begin the process of City Government not making matters worst by fully vetting proposed changes so that the local business climate does not deteriorate any further.

This is very short discussion of a question whose answer could fill a book.

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Last updated: 10/12/07