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Madison Business Professionals
say survival involves cooperation

By Elizabeth Nachman
Contributing Writer

MADISON, Ind. • The downtown merchants of Madison, Ind., have always faced new and difficult challenges over the years. Some issues have stayed the same, and others have come about with the ever-changing economy and the times.
Because Madison is a small town far off the Interstate highway, business owners must work together to overcome challenges and constantly pursue new and innovative ideas, merchants say. Despite ups and downs, they continue to thrive and add character to the quaint river town.

Madison Main St.

To help in this mutually beneficial endeavor, the Downtown Merchants Association was created in the late 1880s. By the 1960s, the name was changed to the Madison Business and Professional Ass-ociation (MBPA) in an effort to include Madison hilltop businesses that had become interested in joining the association. 
This name change also gave way to the inclusion of not only retail businesses but also doctors, lawyers and other professional and service-oriented businesses.  
The MBPA's goal is to sponsor events that promote local businesses as well as continue to maintain and preserve the beauty and charm of the historic downtown area. Some of its projects include Old Fashioned Bargain Days, held in late July, filling and maintaining the flower pots along Main Street, organizing the annual children's Christmas parade and other holiday festivities. 
The group also is responsible for hanging seasonal flags on Main Street. It also provides hospitality on opening day for the tobacco market and sponsors bingo games at the Jefferson County 4-H Fair.
The MBPA currently has approximately 25 members and meets on the first Tuesday of each month.
"Anyone is welcome to attend and see what we are all about," said acting president Rhonda Sauley, owner of Little People Boutique and Fine Threads. "If you can't make it to the meetings, there are many other things you can do as a volunteer."
Sauley has co-owned the mall that houses her businesses for 14 years. She has owned Little People Boutique for 17 years, three of which were in a different location, and Fine Threads for six years. 
She advises new businesses that growth takes time. The owner must be willing to make sacrifices for the first three or four years and put most of the money back into the business itself.  
"It takes a lot of time, energy and money to get your business up and running," said Sauley. 
She encourages anyone interested in starting a new enterprise to use the resources offered by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center. Sauley also stresses that businesses in Madison cannot survive on tourism alone and must make the local residents aware of their existence. She encourages Madison citizens to support their town and keep it thriving. 
"We offer just as much as the larger cities and shops, and sometimes even more," Sauley said. "Many shops in Madison provide gift wrap and registry services, and will go the extra mile for their customers. They will pick out gifts ahead of time and have them ready for the customers when they arrive."
She said visitors are often impressed with the town's friendliness. "It makes for a uniqueness that isn't found in most other small towns," she said. 
Ace Hardware owners Mary and Don Steveley are longtime members of the MBPA. Don moved from Ohio to Madison in 1977 after seeing a newspaper ad for the sale of the business. It was originally located where the Salvation Army is today. The Steveleys in 1991 moved to their current location at 303 W. Main St.
"Madison's downtown is alive and thriving," said Mary Steveley. "Our continuing challenge is letting greater Madison know what we have down here. However, events such as the Christmas parade bring the local people downtown and give them the opportunity to see what is here, what is new and what has changed." 
She advises both new and existing business owners to let others know they are here and what they offer. She says advertising is one way to do this. 
"Madison is a great place to live and work," she said. "We have a treasure here. You can walk up and down the streets, and you are always going to see someone you know."
John Galvin, president of Historic Madison, Inc., came to Madison in 1960. He owned and operated the Ohio Theatre on Main Street until 1993. During that time, he developed a great interest in building up a viable downtown business district. He joined the Downtown Merchants Association and was instrumental in its name change to the MBPA. 
During this time, regular meetings were scheduled, and the Dwight Speedy Mills Motivational Award was instituted. There was also a push to fill the vacant buildings. The group's preservation efforts became a  a catalyst for drawing more shoppers downtown. 
"Many tourists come to walk the streets of Madison and enjoy the river," Galvin said. "However, more local appeal is necessary to help support the downtown businesses. Merchants must have a plan that will help them bridge the gap between the tourist season and the down season. With people pulling together, communicating and sharing ideas, Madison can definitely continue to thrive in the years to come."
One recently established program has already proven an asset in bridging the gap between downtown and hilltop merchants. The Catch-A-Ride Program, which began its loop bus route June 5, 2000, has given people living on Madison's hilltop and in outlying areas the opportunity to travel downtown more quickly and affordably. Last year, the program conducted 17,524 trips, with 2,716 in December 2000.
The program operates two vehicles on a fixed route. Specific points are selected as route destinations, with possibly one or two additional stops in between. The vehicles run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Riders can also call ahead to schedule a pickup at any location near the established route. During special events, the vehicles may operate on additional days and hours. 
Riders pay $1 for trips to any point on the route. Passengers age 60 and over, disabled riders and children under 12 pay half price. Children under 5 are free.
Since its inception, the majority of riders have used the service to get to work, to shop at downtown stores and to make medical appointments, said Julie Schafer, Catch-A-Ride transportation director. "These are people who otherwise would have no transportation to downtown, and they are using it for basic needs," Schafer said. "A lot of them are using it to shop at downtown businesses or to go to work downtown."
"We have seen a huge increase in ridership each month as the program has grown in popularity,"  said Betsey Vonderheide, special projects administrator for the City of Madison. "We are also working on new designs for the Madison buses that will make them distinct to our town. The word ėMadison' will be spelled out by using many pictures of landmarks and scenes of the area."

• For further information, call Catch-A-Ride at 1-800-330-7603.

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