Ideas flow at Bishop business workshop

By Deb Murphy

After Wednesday’s two-and-a-half hour business workshop hosted by the City of Bishop and attended by an estimated 80 residents, one thing is sure: there are plenty of ideas on how local businesses can flourish in northern Inyo County.

Alex Yerkes of Alex' Printing was the first to identify a challenge to local businesses: getting people to stop in downtown.

Alex Yerkes of Alex’ Printing was the first to identify a challenge to local businesses: getting people to stop in downtown.

City Administrator Jim Tatum started the session with a simple question: What are the biggest concerns in Bishop’s business community? There was dead silence for about a second before Alex Yerkes started the conversation with “getting people to stop in town.”

That set off an avalanche of concerns that turned into solutions or ran into brick walls wrapped in red tape.

Some of the dialogue strayed into areas covered by the Economic Development workgroups despite Tatum’s efforts to keep a laser focus on what the City of Bishop could do specifically.

Bishop City Administrator and workshop leader Jim Tatum in front of the long list of concerns and issues facing the local business community.

Bishop City Administrator and workshop leader Jim Tatum in front of the long list of concerns and issues facing the local business community.

The conversation reached critical mass around 8:30 p.m. With the flip chart running out of space for any more ideas, Tatum suggested the information be condensed and another workshop scheduled.

Much of the discussion focused on tourism with the recognition that business success dependent on 18,000 county residents was a tough sell. Yerkes suggested themed directional signs to encourage U.S. Hwy. 395 travelers to stop. “For instance,” he asked, “does anybody know if there’s a sign on Main Street for the Dog Park?”

Resurrecting the Tri-County Fairgrounds banner across Main Street, use Fairground activities to get people to come to town, promoting a tour of downtown murals to turn drivers into pedestrians were just a few of the suggestions.

Mike Allen of Allen Outdoor explained how the new LADWP leases discourage long-term investment in businesses.

Mike Allen of Allen Outdoor explained how the new LADWP leases discourage long-term investment in businesses.

“We need to think of Bishop as a destination,” said Howard Schwartz, owner of Sage to Summit, not just getting passers-through to stop. Schwartz noted the significant and growing rock climbing demographic that flock to the Buttermilks and the Owens Gorge.

Right after getting people to stop in town was where are they going to park their cars. Tatum reported that the City just completed the first phase of its parking study. “The goals are consistency and the distance to Main Street determines the length of parking time. There’s almost some kind of anomaly on every block.”

Bishop has been in discussion with Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for a while to secure the lease on the empty lot next to Holy Smoke Barbecue. Tatum has said parking may not be the best use of the prime retail location, but could be an interim solution.

Another possibility is on-going conversations to open up the parking at the former K-Mart location, in part to meet the need for RV parking.

The empty K-Mart structure was also a focus of concern. There was no lack of what to do with the building – an adventure center, big motel and nice restaurant complex, kids’ activity center complete with roller rink. According to Tatum, the building is leased by Vons.

Another bureaucratic block wall was bought up by Mike Allen of Allen Outdoor. LADWP has revised their leases, now bidding out the property every five years, a big disincentive to any kind of business investment.

In addition, Allen explained that the lease could not be changed during the term. “If we had started our U-Haul rentals under the new leases,” he said, “we wouldn’t have been able to.”

Tatum said he was aware of the issue and the problem was worth its own meeting.

A very literal road block to signage and street banners is the fact most of those would be within the CalTrans right-of-way and under what were described as stringent regulations.

Despite what seemed like insurmountable obstacles, the ideas and reports of on-going efforts kept coming: The Paiute Palace is doing surveys to see who’s here and why, where are they going and where did they come from; social media participation, cell phone apps, City façade improvement loans in the $15-20,000 range, zoning ordinances that encourage business start-ups.

Perhaps the best indicator of improvement for the business community was the fact attendees at Wednesday’s meeting actually signed up for more workshops.

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9 Responses to Ideas flow at Bishop business workshop

  1. curious shopper February 3, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

    It’s great that the City of Bishop is working to help local business and reaching out for ideas from the community. I’m reminded of the “gap analysis study” done about 5 years ago when locals were told that 75% of retail purchases were made after 5 pm. I’m curious if any local business used that information to expand or adjust their business hours. Let’s face it, with very few exceptions, nearly all downtown retail businesses are closed up tight by 5:30. And most of those are also closed on Sundays…. We say we depend on tourist dollars, but when are they supposed to shop? A huge majority of our tourists are here for our outdoor activities, be it hiking, fishing, skiing, rock climbing, hunting. All day-time activities. For people that come into town Friday evenings, most stores are already closed. If they spend all day Saturday out playing until late afternoon or evening, again – most stores are closed when they return since several retailers have shortened Saturday hours. Then closed Sundays??? The weekend tourists buy some jerky, hit the bakery and head home. Maybe they would have stopped at your business… if you were open.
    During the warmer months, there are scores of people walking around downtown Bishop in the evenings. I would encourage every business owner to pick a warm evening and sit on bench or a planter across from their business and just watch how many people pass by their (closed) business in an hour, how many pause to look in the window, how many might come in to spend some money before or after their dinner. And look at the front of your business. Is it clean and inviting? Dark and dingy? How would it look with a deep cleaning, a fresh coat of paint, a string of lights around the window or more colorful flowers in the planter out front? Does your business look like you care?
    I know running a small business is a lot of hard work and long hours for the owners. But maybe it would be more profitable to close on a weekday instead of the weekend. Maybe you have some employees that would prefer to come in late morning and work through the evening, or take a long mid-day break and stay later. There are solutions when people are flexible. But Bishop really needs to break out of the routine and rut of Monday thru Friday 9am – 5pm. And since those are pretty much the same hours all our government, bank, and retail employees work, you are likely to get more locals coming in as well.
    Can the City of Bishop help with that? Maybe. Back when our Farmer’s Market was on Friday evenings, downtown was packed. One summer, the Bishop Chamber of Commerce also tried one evening a month with downtown music and arts and vendors and encouraged businesses to extend their hours for that night. We now have a wonderful space all down Warren Street. Perhaps there could be a type of city market during the warm months with vendors of all types, musicians, arts, food, theater/dance groups and that would encourage the businesses to stay open later. Hopefully some will take advantage of the business improvement loans. And maybe the City could host a webinar or a speaker for business owners and the community that would encourage and teach skills for problem solving and out-of-the-box thinking and how to facilitate and encourage change.

  2. Nancy Baker February 3, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    I have a correction for Trouble’s post. The Vons in Bishop is NOT the highest priced Vons in the state of California. Our Vons in Mammoth is even more expensive. Not that I WANT to win this challenge, but we do win this time.

  3. BishopShopper February 3, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    I would hope customer service would be on the list. I’ve been shopping in Bishop for 30 years, and this is one area that needs improvement. There are some businesses I will never go back to. Also the Inyo County Government web site is about useless, and that says something in it’s self.

  4. Rick OB February 2, 2016 at 9:53 pm #

    The last time somebody brought this up, it was said that Kmart owns the land and THAT’S why it sits empty…no competition.

  5. Christopher Forte February 2, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

    Something has to be done with that public eye sore, the former KMart/Vons building and parking lot. Using the lot for public parking, even if it was a pay one, is a great idea. But not just for RVs. Commercial truckers need a place to park as well, instead of the middle of the darn road/in the left-turn lane! The building itself should be leased or sold to another grocery chain so that the competition would drive the prices down since, as Trouble pointed out, groceries are expensive here. Has the City investigated and exhausted all legal avenues it may have to force Vons to sell or lease it out? Or to take it from Vons in some way since it is an eye sore and depressing economic activity here? Eminent domain? Many tourists who drive through Bishop I speak to say it makes them weary about the City whenever they see that LA-like empty lot and building.The LADWP leases may be the most concern, however, seeing how much land it owns and what a terrible precedent and implication the “revised leases” could create for the whole town. Did anyone bring up a convention center? Or to make Bishop a “destination,” and not just one people drive through, how about encouraging some resort hotels or spas, like in Mammoth? Instead of just motels, as nice as some are? Maybe more frequent bus or shuttle services to area attractions, like the Buttermilks, Bishop Creek Canyon, and, maybe most importantly, to and from Mammoth and the Mammoth air port? And to transportation centers south? I have no car anymore, but Eastern Sierra Transit only has bus service from the Lancaster metrolink station to my old home town of Bishop 3 days a week and not even on a weekend.

    • Mike Bodine February 3, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

      the old kmart building is owned by the Vons/Safeway Corp. a listing on LoopNet states the building will not be sold to a, equal competitor. The grounds are maintained and don’t violate any municipal laws. Only money can save it.

  6. Spelling bee champ February 2, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    Trouble, I’ll tell you what you don’t know…… How to spell. But I do agree the cost to live here is ridiculous.

    • Trouble February 2, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

      Thanks for pointing that out , Spell Check!

  7. Trouble February 2, 2016 at 3:35 am #

    Gee, I wonder why people don’t want to stop in Bishop to shop. Maybe because evrybodody knows we have the highest priced grocery store in the state. Maybe because they are rumored to pay other peoples renr to keep compation out. But what do I know.


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