Maria Thompson, chief executive officer of TJ Technologies Inc.,
is one of many city business owners who said she had trouble
starting up her enterprise in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Thompson
said the city should be more aware and conducive to small
businesses.

Owners like Thompson and Scott Leopold of Leopold Brothers
Brewery said they felt neglected by the city early on in their
careers. They, along with other established and new business owners
across the city, expressed concern with taxes, rent, housing and
parking in a survey conducted last month by the Ann Arbor Area
Chamber of Commerce.

The most significant results showed that 42 percent of
proprietors said they felt taxes and the cost of doing business
were too high. About a third of respondents said they felt there
should be more affordable housing for the workforce, and 10 percent
said they thought that a lack of available workspace was a
deterrent for entrepreneurs.

Domenico Telemaco opened New York Pizza Depot in 1997. He said
it took him a year to find a suitable location due to high
rent.

“This is an expensive place to maintain a business. You
have to work hard through the many city policies and
regulations,” he said.

He said the rent he pays is not as high as that of businesses
located on State Street, which he said have to pay $10,000 or more
per month.

Telemaco added that the city denied him approval to change the
sign outside his door because the area on East William Street is
considered a historical district.

College Shoe Repair owner Pat Brown has been in town 60 years
longer than Telemaco and has similar concerns. College Shoe Repair
is next door to NYPD.

“It’s almost impossible to keep going. It is getting
harder and harder to stay in business,” he said.

Ten percent said they believed that a lack of parking hurt
businesses. Parking, along with high taxes and health insurance, is
among the toughest obstacles to overcome, Brown said, adding that
he hears several complaints from his customers.

Randy Parrish, owner of a frame store in Nickels Arcade, also
said he faces similar problems with city parking.

“Parking situations are terrible for the people who work
here and their customers,” he said.

Despite such obstacles, some local owners said they have no
choice but to just deal with the difficulties of doing business.
“You just have to deal with whatever they lay on you. You
have to work your fingers to the bone,” said Bill Loy, an
owner of Student Bike Shop on Maynard Street.

The survey also found ways in which the city promoted business
growth. Fifty two percent of respondents said they felt that the
city’s cultural amenities and lifestyle promoted business and
23 percent said they felt proximity to the University made the city
an attractive place to do business.

While many store owners admitted they are faced with extremely
high costs, they said they are also grateful to do business in a
well-groomed city with low crime rates.

“The cost of doing business may be high, but this city is
also considered one of the best cities to live in,” Telemaco
said.

Business owners gathered late last month to discuss these issues
in a forum titled “Agenda: Ann Arbor” organized by the
Chamber of Commerce. A real- time electronic survey was also
conducted at this time. Lower taxes, lower cost housing, and more
efficient rules and regulations were among the most heated topics
discussed.

Brandt Coultras, director of governmental affairs for the
chamber, said the forum and survey results will be used for further
discussion. However, the chamber does not have a ready response to
the results, he said.

“The information collected will move the community forward
on these issues. … The chamber will also take a closer look
at the results … (taxes) is clearly a major concern for the
community. As of now, there’s no clear action of what’s
going to be done,” said Coultras.

 

Costs of business

Local business owners express strengths and weakness of A2
business environment

Out of about 180 owners surveyed, 42 percent responded that
taxes and costs of business in city were too high.

Ten percent said they believed a lack of parking in the city
hurt business.

Twenty-three percent credited proximity to the University as a
boost for their companies.

“This is an expensive place to maintain a business. You
have to work hard through the many city policies and
regulations.”

— Domenico Telemaco

New York Pizza Depot owner

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