City's survey could benefit business plan

NASHUA – Any similarities between a survey the city is sending to downtown merchants and a different group’s efforts to organize a special tax district are purely coincidental.

However, the survey could be helpful to efforts to create the special tax district, officials say.

At first, Tom Galligani, the city’s economic development director, worried it might be bad timing to undertake the survey just as a committee has been approved to explore whether the city should create a special tax district for improvements to the downtown.

While a group promoting the tax district concept has already conducted its own survey to measure the priorities of downtown property owners, Galligani said his department’s project is “really a bigger-picture undertaking.”

The survey will seek to determine “what’s driving the downtown economy” and gauge “the needs of downtown businesses,” Galligani said.

Though separate, the survey is likely to provide useful information for the committee forming for the special tax district called a business improvement district, or BID.

“I think the information will be pretty beneficial for the committee set up to look at creating the BID,” Galligani said.

The chief executive officer of a downtown business organization agrees.

“We weren’t involved in putting it together, but we’ve known about it for a while now,” said Sue Butler, executive director of Great American Downtown.

Butler noted that a couple of questions in the survey ask downtown businesses to appraise the work of her organization.

The answers will provide useful feedback to her group, she said.


Butler also found interesting a question that asked merchants about whether they would like to see their businesses opened for longer hours and factors that may have prevented businesses from being open longer, such as staffing costs.

“That tends to be a big complaint about downtown, the inconsistency of hours, but we’re not a mall,” Butler said.

“We can’t insist on businesses being open at the same time,” she said.

The city’s survey was modeled after one produced by the University of Wisconsin, but with some questions tailored specifically to Nashua, Galligani said.

It will be mailed to hundreds of businesses gleaned from a list updated through considerable legwork of summer intern Jordan Kert, a Brandeis University student who went knocking on doors to make sure the list was current, Galligani said.

Typically, a 25 percent response rate is a good return on such surveys, but Galligani added, “We’re looking for something much more than that.”

He’s hoping for a response rate approaching 70 percent for downtown retailers, Galligani said.

“It will be interesting to see trends emerge as we analyze correlations between business type, customer locales, and business locations on Main Street,” Galligani said.

“We’re hoping to get surveys back by Aug. 5,” Galligani said.

“Once we do tabulate the results, we will likely issue a report and make a public presentation – maybe to the board of alderman or maybe a presentation directly to the downtown merchants,” he said.

“This study will shed light on important dynamics such as the effect of changing property values on business mix and location, while creating a vital snapshot of current market conditions downtown,” he said.