The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 13, 2012

Merchants discuss ways to draw visitors

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Some 30 Conneaut business owners and interested citizens gathered Thursday night to discuss way to draw tourists — and their fat wallets — into  town.

The meeting was conducted by Conneaut’s Ward 1 Councilman Doug Hedrick, chairman of council’s economic development committee. It was the second in a series of community forums geared to pumping up the local economy.

Thursday’s meeting was devoted to marketing methods. Conneaut has much to offer, but how best to spread the word, was the issue.

“We’ve got a lot to give,” said city resident Jack Polchosky. “We need to find a way to give it.”

Hedrick surveyed the audience for the city’s highlights. Their responses — including Lake Erie, fishing and wineries — all pointed to a strong tourism base.

Members of Conneaut’s Board of Tourism reviewed recent initiatives to attract visitors. The group has also launched an ambitious program to improve signage at key locations in the county to point would-be guests to the city. New signs on Interstate 90 will be erected after the $46 million highway improvement project in Conneaut is complete, group members said.

Pat Griswold, owner of Pizzi’s Cafe, said he builds repeat business by regularly contacting past customers via newsletters and emails. Conneaut should do the same with visitors to the town’s seasonal events, such as the popular D-Day re-enactment and Fourth of July Festival, he said.

Other ideas discussed: Improved directional signs within the city limits, cooperative advertising among local businesses, aggressive marketing via social media and ways to lure people who head to the county to visit Geneva-on-the-Lake and Ashtabula Harbor’s Bridge Street shopping district.

Hedrick asked his audience to mull the idea of creating a marketing committee.

“We have a lack of focus, and a committee could help narrow that focus,” he said. “We really want to keep the ball rolling.”

The first forum was held in late June and was attended by more than 40 people. That inaugural audience was asked to fill out surveys, which showed the city has several businesses decades old.

“We do have a core of committed people committed to doing business in Conneaut,” Hedrick said.

Surveys also pointed out some concerns businesspeople have in the city, primarily a shrinking population and shrinking household income. Merchants also said the appearance of the city should be a priority. To that effect, council recently approved a vacant house/building program aimed at making property-owners more responsible for the upkeep of their structures.