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Kilgore advisory board discusses future of downtown commerce

By Reese Gordon rgordon@news-journal.com
Dec. 2, 2013 at 11 p.m.


KILGORE - In the wake of a restaurant closing, a retail store shutting down and a nearly 20 percent decline in sales tax collections in the past year, Kilgore city staff and Main Street board members came together Monday to discuss the future of downtown commerce.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the status of retail shop Barton and Beane. The store is still open for business, but will close at the end of December.

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KILGORE - In the wake of a restaurant closing, a retail store shutting down and a nearly 20 percent decline in sales tax collections in the past year, Kilgore city staff and Main Street board members came together Monday to discuss the future of downtown commerce.

Denise Reinert, chairwoman for Kilgore's Main Street Advisory Board, said the crux of the issue is merchants offering goods their customers can't afford.

"I work with the public and everyone says, 'I can't afford downtown'," Reinert said.

Most recently, downtown restaurant Nanny Goats Café has closed and retail shop Barton and Beane is scheduled to close at the end of the month. They're now among several vacancies in downtown commercial space.

"We are always working on retail development," City Manager Scott Sellers said. "We don't like any retailer to close its doors but unfortunately when that does happen we have to be there to fill that vacancy and that is what we will continue to do. But the city's role only goes so far."

Sellers noted that downtown Kilgore has "too many dark spaces" and those vacancies have created a drop in sales tax revenues this year.

According to an October report from the Texas Comptroller's Office, the city of Kilgore experienced a 19.14 percent decline in sales tax collections this August from a year ago. September sales tax collections were down 5.7 percent from a year ago.

According to Sellers, the city needs to be more thorough in marketing its downtown businesses.

"I think there are national databases for retail establishments and we haven't even tapped into those yet," he said. "So it's taking all the buildings here and putting them on that database and keeping that database up to date and following through on leads."

Kilgore Main Street Manager Clara Chaffin said the ability to fill the space in downtown Kilgore depends on a variety of factors.

"Some of it is all of a sudden someone else has moved in who's doing the same product line and it's too competing," she said. "Or it's 'Oops! I just don't have the startup capital that I thought I would have.' It could be a multitude of reasons why someone would come to me six months ago and say they want to open a business and now that a spot is open they decide not to."

While the city decides how to handle its decrease in sales tax revenue and increase retail development downtown, it will also have to do so without the services of Chaffin, who resigned Nov. 25.

When the advisory board met Monday, it also discussed the future of the Main Street program and assessed the appropriate role of its next manager.

Chaffin said she thinks the job description for the position needs to be rewritten, but said no alterations had been agreed upon by the board.

"I don't think we can honestly say what is going to happen yet," she said. "Or that there are going to be changes or it's just going right back to what it's been. But for our next meeting we are going to be discussing the job description and what the role of the program is going to be."

The next Main Street Advisory Board meeting is set for noon Monday at Kilgore City Hall. The board plans to discuss the role of the Main Street manager as it relates to events and business recruitment, marketing and advertising.

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