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Fighting City Hall:

a small-business view

A big issue in the Rochester mayoral campaign: economic development. An often-overlooked aspect of E-D: small business. It's a crucial segment of the economy, but in some circles, City Hall has a reputation of being obstructionist. Fair? We asked a few retailers.

"I'm optimistic, but I won't make the same mistake as my father did and bet the farm on the city," says Dick Rowe, owner of Rowe Photo Video & Audio. "I want to support the city. But I'm a retailer. Retailers know that you put your most profitable items at the customer's eye level. You don't put them on the bottom shelf in the corner, and that's what the city does."

"My biggest criticism is the lack of understanding of what it takes to survive as a small business person. The risks involved, the competition, the challenges --- they're not getting the fact that we are the producers," says Rowe. "We just opened a third location, in Webster. I walked into the town hall and they are ready for me. They shook my hand. I had two pieces of paper. When you go downtown, it will take them three times longer, more paperwork, and they're not there to help you. The attitude is you're there for them."

Microworx owner Jeff Leist wanted to stay in the city when he decided to look for better space, but felt that City Hall was complacent. "I applied for a façade grant for the old building," he says. "But grants were only available to those businesses in commercial buildings. This was a 50/50 grant, so I was eager to invest myself. But that building was zoned R-3, and didn't qualify. I thought they were unresponsive when they should have been proactive."

The public's negative perception of downtown is a problem, says Bill Coppard, one of the Little Theatre's co-founders. "I don't believe the city is doing everything wrong. Some things will be more involved when you work with the city compared to the suburbs," he says. "But the perception in the suburbs is that downtown is crime-ridden and there's difficulty finding parking. I say, don't make excuses. Don't tell me how much more it would cost to park if we were in New York City. We're not, so solve the problem."

On the other hand: When the Park Avenue Deli changed hands, it also underwent a complete redesign. Despite the extensive work involved to reopen as Camille's Sidewalk Café, owner Michael Linehan says dealing with the city was a snap. "I was concerned because I had heard so many horror stories, and in this case, the Preservation Board was involved. But it went very well. I'm trying to open another one in PittsfordPlaza, and dealing with the Town of Pittsford has been harder."

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