The Dinkytown Business Alliance is struggling to bring new businesses into the fold.
The Alliance and its predecessor, the Dinkytown Business Association, have existed for the last 69 years. The Alliance's mission is to “strengthen the business climate of the Dinkytown commercial area,” but it has seen declining interest from local businesses, with some disagreeing with the way it’s run.
“It’s a challenge to keep our community business members engaged,” said DBA President Randy Gast. “It’s an ongoing challenge because everybody is so busy.”
The alliance continues to struggle with remaining “relevant,” Gast said. Plus, decreased membership leads to less funding for the organization, he said.
“You don’t collect dues, you don’t have enough money to do things,” Gast said, but added DBA also receives funding from grants.
Community engagement and collaboration between businesses are strengthened when DBA has more members, he said.
Greg Pillsbury, owner of Burrito Loco, was a former president and member of the DBA for nearly 12 years. He is no longer a member due to other obligations.
DBA is a reliable resource for information, he said, particularly for new business owners that have issues or questions.
“There’s a lot of benefits to joining,” Pillsbury said. “It’s really helpful to stay informed.”
But other Dinkytown business owners say they’ve steered away from DBA due to its organizational model.
Left Click Lounge owner Ryan Christianson is a new member of the community who said he has no interest in joining DBA.
There’s no “incentive” in paying to join the alliance, he said, adding that he would only join if all businesses are “equally ranked.”
“It should be a club where … if you do pay, it should be very [affordable],” Christianson said. “From a business owner’s point of view, there’s not much incentive to group with your competitors.”
Pete Jacobson, owner of Land’s End Pasty Company, said DBA doesn’t promote all businesses equally.
“[DBA has] done a fair job of promoting the area to students and protecting the interests [of] businesses,” Jacobson said. “[However], I don’t feel that smaller businesses are represented as well as they could be in the DBA.”
Gast said DBA strives to adequately represent all businesses in the neighborhood.
Any inconsistencies in representation are unintentional, he said, but added DBA could do a better job of reaching out to new businesses.
“The unfortunate reality is that if you’re a single small operator in Dinkytown and you look around, it looks like the big names are the ones who are doing stuff,” Gast said.
Lee Sayt, owner of The Cove, said he would like to join the alliance to network with other businesses and brainstorm how to boost Dinkytown’s reputation.
But Sayt said there has been a lack of communication on how to join the alliance.
“I don’t even know how to get [involved with DBA],” he said.
Gast suggested business owners who want to join the alliance should contact him through the DBA website.
“Sometimes we don’t get to everybody,” Gast said. “If people want to join or want to talk about it, call me. Contact me through the website.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the age of the Dinkytown Business Alliance. Both it and its predecessor, the Dinkytown Business Association, have operated in the neighborhood for 69 years.