Group hopes to boost second season

Scott Spencer, owner of Bethany Beach gift shop Of All Things!, wants to give his business life that extends well beyond the summer season, and he’s prepared to get his hands dirty to do it.

Spencer came to the Oct. 20 Bethany Beach Planning Commission with a proposal: to ask the town for its cooperation and support in founding a new Bethany Beach business merchants’ organization that will focus on expanding the town’s commercial viability into September and October, May and June, and, eventually, year-round.

“I’m asking you to help the business community organize a new organization, to help promote Bethany Beach in the off-season, as well as the regular season,” he said.

Spencer said the downtown Bethany Beach business community had suffered from the post-season fall-off of visitor traffic, as well as a problem with business owners knowing and working with each other.

“We want to be a voice of the business community with the town council and planning commission for planning, both long-term and right away,” he said.

Spencer said he hoped local business owners would be able to use the new organization to get to know each other and put their heads together for their mutual benefit, as well as to serve as a forum to get a cohesive representation of business owners’ opinions.

He said he would like to request the town to help the group financially, such as helping to fund promotions of the town in the off-season, as well as offering a liaison to the council and planning commission through which the merchants could speak and keep involved in the town government.

“I’ve had a lot of calls from other business owners who are very interested in this,” Spencer told commissioners, emphasizing that his personal intention was to help the group get organized and from them to allow the group to come up with ideas, such as new events that would help extend the season.

Spencer said the idea was in the early stages, with no plans yet as to whether the group would charge a membership fee to help generate operating funds. But he said he hoped to have an initial meeting of the group this fall or winter.

On Oct. 20, Spencer asked the planning commissioners to help facilitate the effort, and they were ready for and responsive to the request, which meshes neatly with an ongoing commission effort to get the town’s business community more involved in town government.

“This is a great idea,” said Commissioner Lew Killmer, who had previously been tasked as the commission’s liaison with the business community in the new commission effort. “This is something I strongly support.

“Bethany Beach has gotten to the point where it can support a much more vibrant business community for much more of the year,” Killmer added.

Commissioner Don Doyle praised Spencer’s efforts, saying that it was hard for town government to inject enthusiasm for participation into the business community. “But you seem more than happy to jump in,” Doyle commented.

Spencer’s fledgling merchant group also got another voice of support on Oct. 20, from Karen McGrath, the executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m thrilled Scott is stepping up to lead,” McGrath said, adding that downtown Bethany businesses have been caught in a Catch 22. “It’s hard to get people downtown in the fall and winter because no one’s open. And it’s hard to get people to stay open because no one’s downtown.”

It’s a challenge the Chamber has endeavored to but not been entirely successful in overcoming, particularly as many of the downtown Bethany businesses are not Chamber members. But that didn’t stop McGrath from championing Spencer’s initiative on Saturday.

“I’m thrilled by the idea and we’ll be happy to let you use the Chamber’s resources to help the project succeed,” she said, offering information on the Chamber’s members and other area businesses, as well as administrative support and use of the Chamber’s information center.

“I’d love to see businesses open year-round with restaurants open for lunch and shops open,” McGrath added.