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Friday, April 15, 2016

To the Powers That Be

Dog Ears Books, July 1993

April 15, 2016

Dear Village Trustees:

My business started out in Northport, on Waukazoo Street, back in 1993, so I have had a lot of experience with summer tourists. Some now make the trip to Northport specifically to visit my bookstore, while others driving up the peninsula are surprised to come upon it unexpectedly. 

First-time visitors have a lot of questions, but the Top Three Questions -- of all time -- are the following, which I hear on a daily basis all summer:

At all times of the day:
Where is the nearest public restroom? (It's surprising that no one yet has invented a bathroom app for smart phones. People still seek out physical facilities.)

Early in the day:
How far is it to the lighthouse, and how do we get there?

Later in the day:
Is there a restaurant where we can have dinner and look out on the water?

That’s what tourists want. I have never heard a tourist complain about traffic or parking or absence of benches or even our admittedly ugly streetlights (which I have always yearned to see replaced with more attractive lights). Visitors love our parks. They love our marina. They love, as we all do, our summer farm market and the welcoming friendliness and peacefulness of our town.

As for comparing Northport to Suttons Bay:

Suttons Bay has always been a much larger town and has always been ten miles closer to Traverse City. Thus Suttons Bay has become in large part a bedroom  community for people who work in Traverse City. Traverse City is also where most of the overnight tourist accommodations have always been, so it has that edge over Northport. But moving Northport closer to Traverse City is probably not feasible, and some of us, whether natives or transplants, like where we are. We chose life in the slow lane.

Yes, there are more restaurants and shops in Suttons Bay, but anyone who thinks Northport should be more like Suttons Bay needs to think about how many new shops and galleries and restaurants opened and closed in Suttons Bay in the last 20 years. Those of us in business keep an eye on that kind of thing. It's easy to have a dream, harder to take a flyer on it, but the real work comes in the long haul and requires sacrifices not everyone is prepared to make -- or, if they have families to raise, sacrifices not everyone can afford to make. Even in Traverse City, exorbitant rents and seasonal traffic have done in many a dreamer. 

Northern Michigan business is seasonal and will remain so as long as we have winter -- and not only because we depend so much on tourists. A large segment of our "permanent" population goes away in winter. More and more former single-family homes converted to seasonal summer rentals only exacerbate the pattern.

You want to improve Northport’s looks? 

o    Keep it simple. 

o    Don't do what doesn't need to be done. 

o    Don't try to make Northport look like somewhere else.

Because cosmetic improvements will not change underlying reality. Because wishes are not horses. And do you really think Northport at present is unattractive? I don’t see that at all.


Pamela Grath
Dog Ears Books
106 Waukazoo Street
P.O. Box 272
Northport, MI  49670
(231) 386-7209

Dog Ears Books, April 2016


Dawn said...

I think Northport is wonderful...and if I could I'd be there year round. Just the way it is. If I want cutsie I can drive somewhere else. I want real. And that's already there.

Deborah said...

Wholeheartedly agree. I love Northport as it is and as it was when I first saw it 20+ years ago.

Gerry said...

I like your letter. I love Northport, and I go all the way around the Bay to visit even when it's NOT summer. (Does a person from Antrim County count as a Tourist Person?) Over on this side of the Bay we have the same kinds of issues. I think government at every level ought to be in the business of enabling infrastructure and necessary services for the people who actually live in a community. Other good things follow from that.

Unknown said...

This applies equally to my town. Just substitute "Jamestown RI" for Northport and "Newport RI" for Suttons Bay.

P. J. Grath said...

I appreciate all your comments. Since I posted this letter, there has been a meeting of the village planning commission. Public input was requested and given. I'm wondering if anyone cares what we said. But I'll feel better when the sun comes out again....