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SUNSET BEACH—The town is ripe—if not overdue—for formation of a merchants association, town and business officials agree.
It was the main topic at a Dec. 5 business community reception orchestrated by the town at Sea Trail.
Sunset Beach Mayor Richard Cerrato, speaking at the start of the presentation by a representative with the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, noted the seeds for exploring the topic started last January. The hope, he said, was for Sunset Beach island and mainland business leaders to join together to form a local merchants association.
Last week’s meeting was a first step, “However, only you can make this dream come true,” Cerrato said, speaking amid about 30 people who turned out for the informal session.
Lindsey Kueffner, executive director of related associations with NCRMA, outlined steps toward forming a local association as well as bylaws and getting organized.
The first thing is to establish a budget, entailing potential membership and “who you expect to be members of the association,” she said. “Estimate expenses and see if you have something there.”
The benefits of having a merchants association are “you have a voice in what goes on in the community,” Kueffner said, as well as collective advertising.
She deemed having a website a no-brainer.
“It costs virtually nothing to create and register for a domain name,” Kueffner said, citing “shop local” sites in Raleigh, the Triad and Wilmington as examples.
The sites are used to promote local businesses and shopping local, she said, adding social media like Facebook and Twitter are useful as well.
Sunset Beach Town Council and town officials also attended the event.
“One of the benefits is networking,” town councilman Wilson Sherrill said. “We realize that everybody in this room doesn’t know everybody in this room.”
Sherrill suggested having a discussion about how they would like to move forward.
“There’s synergy in numbers in advertising,” he said, adding the town would not be involved.
“This would be your merchants association,” he said. “You would create a set of bylaws. There’s a lot of avenues to go through.”
Local Realtor Fred Thorne said attempts had been made in the past to start a merchants association, which never got off the ground.
“We appreciate the town holding this today,” he said. “We need to do something in January after the holidays.”
Thorne said there are benefits for everyone being a member.
“It seems like every other town has a merchants association and, unfortunately, we don’t,” he said.
In response to town councilwoman Karen Joseph’s question about how a small-town group of merchants can get started, Kueffner said it involves one of two people who really want to get it done.
“You need some people who are really dedicated and want to spearhead the effort,” Kueffner said. “It needs to come from the retail merchants group.”
She told Joseph she could put locals in touch with other merchants associations.
“So they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel that somebody else has already made round,” Joseph said.
Sherrill said there are opportunities for volunteers to contact people with merchants associations in Shallotte, Holden Beach, Oak Island and Southport to get some ideas and begin the process in 2013 and “being ready by .”
Island business owner Marc Kaplan said he sometimes felt in the past that “the town didn’t care about us. I don’t feel that way anymore.”
If businesses do well, they make more profits and pay more taxes for greater benefits to the town in the long run, he said.
“It’s nice to see the town cared enough to talk to us and decided to help us, because you’re helping us by having this first meeting,” he said.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email email@example.com.