When Wendy Getchell became president of the Downtown Merchants Association in August, she had no idea her role would change from serving 100 businesses to leading a new organization that represented more than 600 businesses, residents, arts organizations and places of worship.
Getchell, who owns the Main Street women’s-fashion shop, Lotus, became president of the merchants association three months after three-way merger talks began between her group, the Palm Avenue Merchants Association and the Downtown Partnership.
“I wasn’t part of the steering committee discussing the merger,” she said. “People were expecting me to immediately sign an agreement (after becoming president), but I could not in good conscience sign something I wasn’t familiar with.”
During her due diligence, Getchell became less enamored with parts of the partnership’s participation in the deal. For example, the partnership would occupy a majority of board seats.
The two merchant groups killed the three-way merger and joined forces to form the Downtown Sarasota Alliance (DSA), which now represents all downtown residents, organizations, businesses and non-profits.
The DSA’s slogan is “one voice uniting businesses and residents,” and that’s what Getchell is hoping to do.
In the coming year, she wants to create more events to bring more vibrancy to downtown. Those events include resurrecting the Reading Fest and Arts Day — possibly combining them. She also wants to hold a large flower show on Main Street.
Getchell’s definition of vibrancy is a busy, bustling downtown.
“Right now people go to the opera and then get in their cars and drive to Longboat,” she said. “I’d like to see them spend the day downtown, wandering, enjoying the park.”
Another goal is to attract other groups and encourage them to join the DSA — organizations such as the merchants associations in Burns Square and Rosemary District and Five Points Neighborhood Association.
Getchell believes a larger and more diverse membership will carry more clout at City Hall. Members of the Downtown Improvement District and City Commission have tagged the DSA as “just a merchant group” that’s not attuned to downtown businesses.
“The criticism is misinformed. There are only four merchants on our 11-member board,” she said.
“Everything a big company has to do we have to do. I’m a corporation. I’m a CEO. I don’t know how that doesn’t qualify me as a business.”
Each week, Getchell puts in about 70 hours of work at Lotus and another 20 hours for the DSA. Asked if it’s worth it, she doesn’t hesitate to respond in the affirmative.
Said Getchell: “I was so impressed with something President Clinton said when he was here (in September). He said, ‘If everyone did what was in his capability for community service, the world would be a better place.’ That’s how I view my job with the DSA.”
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.
Favorite part of Sarasota: Downtown
Interesting fact: She met Bob Dylan in an elevator on her way to see The Rolling Stones.
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