Columbus, Ohio USA
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A Brighter Future Begins Now

Dream job delights newly appointed SNBA director
By Jennifer Hambrick
March 2010 Issue

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Leadership in lean times presents a welcome challenge for Christina Menges. Photo © Larry Hamill

t’s not just business a usual for the Short North Business Association these days.

The recent appointment of Christina Menges as the Short North Business Association’s new senior director has ushered in what may be an era of change for area businesses. Just how much change Menges’ leadership will bring about, and what that change will look like, are the central questions.

But Menges, 39, says she isn’t planning anything drastic. Menges, who grew up in Delaware, Ohio, studied briefly at the Columbus College of Art and Design, and whose professional career has included modeling, acting and radio voiceover work as well as stints as communications specialist for the Democrats of the Ohio House of Representatives and major gifts officer for Ohio Wesleyan University, says she aims to use her background in communications and development to build on the accomplishments of her SNBA predecessor, John Angelo.

“John Angelo has done an exceptional job at bringing national focus to the Short North arts district,” Menges said. “We want to maintain that focus that John has achieved, but more specifically we want to work with and talk to and listen to our member businesses, to their needs, and how we can become a stronger resource for them in the future. We want to leverage the momentum that John has created into becoming a stronger, more productive, more involved resource for our member businesses and to continue to draw more business to the district.”

Menges says she is already working on plans to bring funding to the Short North in the form of grants and sponsorships and says she will determine more specifically what she needs to accomplish on behalf of Short North businesses in the course of a thorough research process. That process, Menges says, is likely to unfold over most of the current year and will include studying what organizations like the SNBA are doing to grow local business in arts districts in other locales; talking with owners of SNBA member businesses about their business needs; conversing with leaders of Columbus arts organizations about forging collaborations among them and SNBA member businesses; and reviewing the design and implementation of Short North signature events, including Gallery Hop, HighBall Halloween and the Short North Gala, to strengthen them as means of drawing visitors – and dollars – to Short North businesses.

“It’s vitally important to do research,” Menges said. “My background is in major gifts, so to me many, many hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars from one donor is really my area of expertise. So it takes a lot of research (to find these donors). And I really think that engaging in conversation, collaboration, however that may come to life, is very important.”

Some Short North business owners second Menges’ intention to build on Angelo’s accomplishments, particularly the attention Angelo garnered for the Short North in regional and national media.

“I think John (Angelo) was an integral part of making the Short North thrive,” said Maren Roth, owner of the Short North contemporary women’s sportswear boutique Rowe. “He managed to be our PR person. He got our name out there nationally, and I think that’s a really hard thing to do.”

John Allen, owner of the Short North Tavern, has been active in Short North community leadership since before opening his restaurant and bar in 1980 and helped organize the community of Short North business owners that now calls itself the SNBA, also credits Angelo with developing a regional and national profile for the Short North.

“When John came along, I think he did an incredibly great job of taking where we already were and building on that,” Allen said. “He created new projects like HighBall Halloween. I think he upped public awareness about the Short North. He did a phenomenal job at that. We get recognized in the New York Times and other national papers as being a destination point.”

But area entrepreneurs say there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure the Short North’s continued growth. Suzi West, owner of Collier West, a Short North-area home décor and gift boutique, says the SNBA needs to balance the national attention Angelo achieved for the district with garnering greater local visibility.

“We need the attention of the city,” West said. “We’ve gotten really delightful national press, but I run a shop where people come in and say they haven’t been to a place in the Short North for ten years. If we’re going to continue to grow and have strong commerce, it needs to come from our local support, not just our national support. People need to recognize what a delightful asset we have here in the Short North. If I had a request of the SBNA, it would be to create that awareness of this asset.”

West says creating awareness of the Short North through evening and weekend events like Gallery Hop and HighBall Halloween will draw business to the area on specific occasions, but she says area businesses need more customers coming in during the workweek and throughout the day.

“Gallery Hop draws people down here so we will have a pretty well trafficked evening. But what I would like of the SNBA and its members, every Saturday night should feel like a Gallery Hop down here,” West said. “It shouldn’t be a once-a-month activity. We need that traffic during the day, we need it during the weekend. It shouldn’t feel event driven or holiday driven. It really should be a community where those offerings are consistent because it’s always here.”

Menges says one of her goals along these lines is to increase foot traffic in Short North businesses, especially on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

“Gallery Hop is a wonderful way to get people into the area in the evening, but daytime foot traffic, it’s not really geared toward that,” Menges said. “As far as (the SNBA’s) being a really strong resource to those retailers who open at 11 and close at 7, that’s been one concerns of our retailers.”

Menges says she is exploring various strategies to bring more people to the Short North during daytime business hours, including working with online media to entice students to the district and developing and marketing a Gallery Hop for 18- to 25-year-olds.

But the Short North Tavern’s John Allen warns SNBA leaders and Short North business owners against resting on the laurels of their accomplishments over the last three decades and says area business owners need to take the initiative to keep the district growing.

“Neighborhoods like the Short North either get better or get worse. What I love about the Short North is that fact that they keep getting better. They haven’t allowed themselves to reach a point and go, ‘this is the end.’ Once that mentality sets in, it will start to go the other way,” Allen said.

Allen says to guard against this, Short North business owners need to be activists for the whole Short North business community, not just their own enterprises, and not expect a single leader to grow area commerce for them.

“One of the things that happens is that in having a director (of the SNBA) is that somehow they (business owners) want to dump everything on this new director and somehow this one person is supposed to run around and be a Godsend and make everything happen all by itself,” Allen said. “The business community needs people to be involved. I think that’s going to be a challenge, because I think that some of the new businesses coming in, they’re too busy to help out and volunteer time and be positive.”

Dan Koch, owner of the Short North’s Columbus Eyeworks, agrees that there’s no such thing as standing still, but also says the city of Columbus needs to be attentive to the ongoing needs of the Short North district and business community. Koch says one of those needs is more visitor parking in the area.

“The city seems really reluctant to try and move along parking for the Short North,” Koch said. “It seems like they have the impression that the Short North is done. In my opinion, they don’t want to support the entrepreneurs and businesses in the Short North. But Experience Columbus and the Convention Center use the Short North to sell Columbus. I would like to see the city leaders think that the Short North is one of the crown jewels of the city.”

Koch’s call for more parking is echoed by any number of Short North business owners, who say that the lack of parking convenient to area stores and restaurants is a disincentive to shop and dine in Short North businesses. However, Allen says the SNBA should continue to create, develop and market special events, not parking lots, to bring customers to Short North businesses.

“Parking is always going to be a problem in old neighborhood like the Short North because if you tear down buildings to build parking lots, garages, etc., then you’re destroying the very thing that makes the neighborhood attractive and valuable,” Allen said. “These old neighborhoods were not designed to have a bunch of cars in them. We have to have the people come and visit our shops and restaurants and stores from outside the neighborhood because there’s not enough people in and around the neighborhood to support everything. That’s why we need the promotions and special events.”

So which needs to come first, more customers, or places where those customers can park? Whatever the answer to this chicken-and-egg question may be, it’s customers who ultimately keep a business afloat. And getting more customers to the Short North and into the district’s businesses may well boil down to branding: communicating to consumers in and beyond Central Ohio the benefits of coming to the Short North. In order to do this, Collier West’s Suzi West says the SNBA should focus on defining what the Short North is and getting the word out about it.

“I feel like there should be a greater collective opinion of what the community stands for, because it would help us promote it. So I would want the SNBA to really work on defining this community and its strengths, but certainly its advantages over other communities and how it can benefit other communities by its growth,” West said.

With the current state of the economy, growing business in the Short North may be more challenging than it has ever been. All the more reason, Allen says, for the district’s business owners and the SNBA to band together.

“This is a time when people have to get creative,” Allen said. “Does this mean I ought to pick up some new products? Should I pick up a new target market for some of what I’m doing? Should I try to sell art over the Internet? You need to do it as an individual business, and it’s something that the business community as a whole needs to do.”

Menges says she believes passionately that the SNBA and Short North businesses can work together to help the area keep thriving even as the economy limps along.

“How can we help each other out? I’m super-ambitious and really energetic, and this is my dream job. My whole career has led up to a position like this one.”

© 2010 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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