Collaboration is the key to progress

Opinion May 1, 2013 0 Comments

by Pete Mazzaccaro

This weekend, thousands will come to Chestnut Hill for the Chestnut Hill Business Association’s Home and Garden Festival. One of two annual festivals, the Home and Garden Festival is the product of a tremendous effort from the CHBA staff and other contributors. Or collaborators. It’s an effort by the whole neighborhood to make sure that Chestnut Hill is at its best for the legions of festival goers who crowd Germantown Avenue.

Collaboration is something the CHBA, the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District and other neighborhood organizations are touting as the explanation for a string of successes in Chestnut Hill. Working together has helped fill up empty restaurant spaces. It’s helped make local events successful. It has many feeling like things are looking up.

In a piece by Paula Riley in this issue, CHBA deputy director Peggy Miller put it this way:

“The Business Association works to draw shoppers to the Avenue businesses, but ultimately, we are all working together to make the Avenue the best it can be for retailers, property owners, residents, and customers.”

What works for one works for all.

It should go without saying that working together will always produce better results than working independently. And it’s not always easy. Each organization in Chestnut Hill has its own agenda and funding stream to protect and grow. At times those priorities might clash. The trick is to find that common ground. On the whole, the community can say it has done a pretty good job at cooperating in recent years.

That’s not to say things are perfect.

Chains – and bank branches in particular – have typically been criticized for not cooperating with the community. But not all chains are bad. Some do cooperate. Some are members of the business association and participate in community events.

Others, however, don’t see the benefit of being a good neighbor. A recent example is the sudden departure of Citibank from the corner of Highland and Germantown avenues. The move was made in the middle of the night. One day, the bank was open, the next it was empty. Even the signs had been thrown in a truck and taken away.

It would be easy to point out what a double indignity the Citibank vacancy represents: that a company bailed out by large sums of taxpayer money expanded and then closed, and is likely still paying rent on a long-term lease with that money (an eyesore financed by the American taxpayer), but that’s a political argument for another time.

The real shame is that the Citibank vacancy, along with the vacancies by other chains – Mellon Bank and The Children’s Place – have left a gaping hole in an otherwise vital block of Chestnut Hill. And there’s not a whole lot that the Chestnut Hill institutions that do collaborate and work on making Chestnut Hill a great neighborhood can do about it.

Aside from putting pressure on those chain businesses and their property owners to do better, it’s worth noting the good work and positive efforts of all those Chestnut Hill businesses with local roots. It would be easier in a lot of ways for individual businesses to turn their backs on the community and take care of themselves.

It’s a good thing most of them don’t. That the Avenue is what it is is due in large part to them.

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