New Albany still needs an autonomous independent business alliance


The following text was published at NA Confidential on 5 March 2019.

The pandemic came to New Albany a year later, followed by endless Sherman Minton Bridge repairs and Main Street beautification upheavals, combining to burden independent downtown business owners with incredibly challenging conditions for their very survival.

There are no easy answers given that local leaders espousing the Gahan personality cult seem to have forgotten the physician’s imperative of “first, do no harm.”

But one thing is clear to me. Independent business owners simply cannot passively permit their well-being to be defined by government officials and goverment-sanctioned groups; even if all of them were perfectly well-intentioned (spoiler alert: they’re not), they couldn’t know what it means to operate your business, and they cannot (or will not) understand their complicity to inflict pain. Their priorities are different, and involve their self-perpetuation first and foremost, not yours.

A few details might have been altered, but I’m standing by these words from 2019. The essay has been lightly edited to correct mistakes I missed the first time.

ON THE AVENUES: Prom planning’s nice and all, but New Albany still needs an autonomous independent business alliance.

“Good morning, Mr. Baylor. How are you doing?”

“Well, I’m doing fine, and as soon as I haul this kitty litter home it will be time for another coffee, and maybe that will help a bit, at least until cocktail hour. Actually, you can make a pretty strong argument for cocktail hour almost any time of day, except you run into those pesky wee hours when the bars are all closed, but that’s why sensible folks keep their liquor cabinets stocked at home, because your living room never closes. Flasks are even better. They keep your libation of choice toasty and close, and did you know that flasks were popularized during Prohibition? That’s right, we needed a 13-year-long flask to maintain harmony until the bars reopened after Repeal. Hell, we still do. If it was up to me, we’d have a museum about Prohibition, and force the school kids to go. Until then, there’s always cold beer and hot tickets.”

“You’re all set. Have a great day, Mr. Baylor.”

I won’t deny that a quarter-century of small business ownership left me a tad exhausted. Near the end of my NABC tenure I often wistfully recalled the words of John Kennedy Tootle’s fictional Miss Trixie from his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces.

“Am I retired?”

But it’s hip to be square, so last week I attended Develop New Albany’s neighborhood soiree at Breakwater. As parties go, it wasn’t too bad. The food and music were great, the acoustics horrendous and the beer selection embarrassing, but what left me baffled like always was the preposterous litany of talking points as presented by a succession of DNA board members in a feat of non-ironic propaganda that would have curled Khrushchev’s hair.

Did I mention Nikita was bald?

The Breakwater residents in attendance were looking around and saying, dude, who are these people?

Let’s paraphrase DNA’s ludicrous City Hall-ghosted script.

Independent businesses have invested $60 million or more in downtown New Albany these past ten years — and so DNA will continue to take credit for the success of these investments in spite of the plain fact that DNA has had absolutely nothing whatever to do with them.  

All a guy can do is stand there clutching his flask and thinking, “Hallucinate often?” Yes, there are many things a high school prom planning committee can legitimately achieve, occasionally stepping out of character by utilizing an idea that wasn’t brazenly stolen from someone else, but for them to persist in claiming a leading role when it’s really been someone else’s time and money is ludicrous and surreal — and it needs to stop.

This is why New Albany’s next mayor must immediately redirect DNA willingly or otherwise back toward National Main Street’s Four Point approach, thus helping DNA to get its local mission right for once, and by doing so openly address a key element of economic vitality by stating the unvarnished truth:

New Albany’s ongoing revitalization has been led almost entirely by independent locally-owned small businesses, which have invested cash, energy and creativity alongside a cadre of primarily hometown local developers and builders. As such, the next logical grassroots step is for City Hall to help midwife an independent business association — then get the hell out of the way.

Back in 2011, an independent business association is exactly what Jeff Gahan told some of us he was going to put his weight behind. He didn’t, and as we’ve since learned, he couldn’t, any more than my cat can sprout wings and zoom to a grain-fed all-mouse deli in New Jersey.

Gahan’s only default mechanism is control, and he annexed DNA in precisely the same fashion as the housing authority, hitching it to his own circled wagon and rendering this purportedly non-political organization into an in-house appendage of his re-election campaign.

Coming soon: mandatory ribbon cuttings for all New Albany businesses — five or six times until November, if necessary to re-enthrone Dear Leader.

Naturally, using DNA as a plaything provides greater benefits to Gahan for keeping his cult of personality afloat, but an independent business association would offer far greater returns in economic advancement for the entire city.

Sadly, beginning in 2012 we learned the hard way that when City Hall generates a head wind against you, it’s unlikely you’ll be getting up to speed.

This isn’t to excuse the independent locally-owned small business community for a certain level of ongoing passivity, only to recognize with eyes wide open that while Gahan has alarmingly few abilities as a cash-stuffed political hack, one of them undoubtedly is a degree of skill at playing the “divide and conquer” game.

Bullying goes hand in hand with this, and fear of the consequences makes it problematic for indies to resist, so pending the imminent electoral flushing of the patronage clique, indies can get started by heeding the advice of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and embracing a simple but eloquent truth: 

 “There truly is strength in numbers.”

AMIBA’s characterization of the situation follows. If you own a business or know someone who does, please read and share it.

Because Community Matters

Think of your favorite shop, restaurant, farm or service provider. We’ll bet it’s a homegrown business. Independent locally-owned businesses are essential to a vital local economy and community character. They’re where the locals go. They’re owned by our friends and neighbors, or maybe even by you.

Community-serving businesses are the backbone of local economies, civic life, local charities, and wealth creation for millions of citizens, as well as a training ground for future generations of entrepreneurs.

Problem: Today, independent businesses face unprecedented competition from larger chain competitors, internet merchants and franchises that enjoy national or international branding power and major economies of scale. As a result, community-based businesses comprise a smaller portion of our economy than ever before. We’ll lose much more than places to shop, dine or do business if we allow current trends to continue.

A Proven Solution: Many cities and towns have discovered a model, pioneered by the staff of the American Independent Business Alliance, to counter these trends successfully and help local entrepreneurs thrive. More than 85 communities in North America now boast Independent Business Alliances to unite independent businesses across all sectors, along with concerned citizens to build vibrant, durable local economies. AMIBA can help you use our models to implement an effective buy local campaign, pass pro-local public policies, facilitate effective collaboration among local businesses and more. There truly is strength in numbers. Learn more about benefits of AMIBA affiliation or the four realms of IBA work. You’ll love what an IBA can do for your business or community!

Why expend the effort?

Because division is so damned costly.

When it comes to power, a vacuum is a condition waiting to be filled. In New Albany, with Gahan’s default imperative remaining absolute control to the exclusion of autonomous intellectual content, quasi-governmental entities are delighted to fill the vacuum created by the absence of indie self-organization, which if achieved would advance the indie business segment’s economic interests as a cohesive bloc and make possible the concentration of power as a purpose-built collective.

How many members of Gahan’s City Hall clique have ever owned an independent small business? If indies are to have an organization, shouldn’t it be an organization whose primary purpose is to advance the clout of indies? Indies themselves know best, don’t they? 

What’s more, there is no reason why a New Albany Independent Business Alliance (for a model, think LIBA, the Louisville Independent Business Alliance) could not exist in cooperation with a reformatted DNA’s economic vitality mission, as a component of what National Main Street now refers to as “cross-cutting Community Transformation Strategies.” Genuine possibilities exist.

The point is this:

Independent locally-owned small businesses have driven New Albany’s revitalization, and yet in terms of decision-making, the reins are nowhere close to the hands of the folks who’ve done the work.

Why do we not insist on input — on power — commensurate with our achievements?

Gahan desires a rubber stamp, not an active and equal partner, but if the mayor and his lickspittles are unwilling to cooperate, shouldn’t we be eager to usher forth the era of “next” as quickly and expeditiously as possible?


Comments are closed.