Informal Poll of Downtown Businesses Raises Serious Questions About Grass Valley’s Retail Focus Group Report

By Don Pelton

Our friend, Deni Draper-Silberstein, went to the one public meeting set up to discuss the Retail Focus Group Report commissioned by the Grass Valley City Council and conducted by Chabin Concepts, Inc.

The City approved this $7500 study in order to determine local shopping patterns and preferences and apparently to gauge the reaction of local business owners to the idea of attracting more big box stores to our community.

Here’s how Deni explained her reaction to that meeting (from her Facebook posting on Tuesday 7/23/13):

There were 3 meetings regarding the City’s solicitation of big box stores: one meeting for the public, one for local businesses, and I forget who the third meeting was for. When I went to the “public” meeting regarding this issue, the consultants whom the City have hired, said that, except for the local restaurants, the downtown business owners who attended the “business owners'” meeting, were overwhelmingly in favor of bringing in big box stores. That the downtown businesses were “overwhelmingly” in favor of bringing in mega-competition didn’t make sense to me, so after the meeting, I went to 12 downtown businesses and asked either the manager or the owner how they felt about this idea. Eleven of the 12 said that they didn’t KNOW that the consultants had had a meeting of the local businesses, and 12 out of 12 said that they are definitely OPPOSED to the idea. I noticed last week that one of the most vocally outraged of the 12 businesses has a “going out of business” sign up at her store.

She added:

Everyone was definitely opposed to the idea of bringing in big boxes … a handful were vehemently opposed. The emotions ranged from vehemently opposed, to angry, to upset, to concerned, to defeated.

Although Deni’s poll was informal and (in her words) “crude,” she nevertheless gave it some forethought and organized her approach before she began, carefully recording her results.

She explained her methodology as follows:

I only spoke with owners/managers because I couldn’t know whether or not employees would accurately represent the business for whom they were working – if the owner or manager was not available, I left without surveying the business.

The questions were, 1) Did you know about the online survey, 2) Did you fill out the survey, 3) Did you know about the focus group, 4) Did you attend the focus group, 5) Are you in favor of Grass Valley bringing in a big box store that sells the same goods as your business.

I made these questions up as I left the focus group – held at Holiday Inn, GV – and walked toward downtown, so they’re not necessarily the best questions one could have asked. Also, I knew from my training in psychology that I, at least, needed to ask the same questions to everyone I surveyed in order to establish some measure of consistency, so I could organize the responses reliably in order to assess the results of this rather crude survey, then establish at least the potential for a valid conclusion – which I won’t draw, but, rather, will let the evidence speak for itself.

The following are Deni’s detailed results, plus her observations about the process:

GV Merchant Survey conducted by Deni on 5/23/13

Merchant Knew of Survey Filled Out Knew of Focus Group Attended Box+
Merchant 1 Y Y N N N
Merchant 2 N N N N N
Merchant 3 N N N N N
Merchant 4 N N N N N
Merchant 5 N N N N N
Merchant 6 N N N N N
Merchant 7 N N N N N
Merchant 8 N N N N N
Merchant 9 N N N N N
Merchant 10 N N N N N
Merchant 11 N N N N N
Merchant 12 N N N N N

Knew of Survey = the owner/manager of the local business knew about the on-line survey that had to be filled out in order to be invited to the Focus Group meetings

Filled out = the owner/manager filled out the survey

Knew of Focus Group =  the owner/manager was informed that a Focus Group meeting for the local business owners was being held on a specific date

Attended = the business was represented at the Business Owners’ Focus Group meeting

Box + = when asked by me, the owner/manager of the business was in favor of soliciting big box stores to set up business in Grass Valley.

If my memory serves me well, there were Four Layers of hoops to jump through before one could attend a meeting (I know there were at least three hoops because I was appalled at how clever they were at making access to the facts difficult, and at keeping potential opponents separated from each other (divide and conquer) i.e. IF one complied with the 4 layers, THEN they could attend ONLY the meeting to which they were invited – the public could ONLY attend the “public” meeting, the business owners could ONLY attend the business owners’ meeting, etc.)

1st layer: One had to know about the survey

2nd layer: One had to take the time to fill out the survey

3rd layer: One had to be invited to attend the meeting (the invitation only occured IF one had filled out the survey, although the owner of Merchant 1 said that s/he had filled out the survey, then kept waiting to be informed of the date of the Business Owners’ Focus Group, but never heard back from the consultants)

4th layer: One had to respond to the invitation by making a reservation to attend the Focus Group Meeting

Deni also sent me some interesting observations on the general subject of big box stores and their effect on local economies, which I’ll print here in Sierra Voices in a subsequent posting.

In the meantime her survey results and the comments by some local business owners about the City/consultant’s inadequate communication raises serious questions about the integrity and inclusiveness of the Focus Group Report itself.

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