Mayer Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Como resident questions business acumen of alienating community

Smart business owners understand the value of common good which can lead to stronger future profits through customer loyalty. People buy from people they like and trust.

Conversely, nothing can cause citizens to question a public process more than when those who are part of the process begin to hide behind poor communication and closed doors.

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After the last town meeting in Como, it appears the battle between Rooster Blues’ owner Scott Michaels and the Como Historic Preservation Commission continues — primarily due to Michaels’ relentless antagonism.

A shrewd business person doesn’t act solely from the weight in his wallet which helps in the pursuit of “being right” at all costs … even to the detriment of a business entity.  

Town attorney Trey Lamar’s indication that this process, which has remained in the public eye until now, should now move behind closed doors because of Michaels’ threat to sue, raises even more concern for a town that is on high-alert due to past misdoings and secrecy.  

What does Michaels hope to gain? Lost revenue? An unbruised ego? Bragging rights?

The business of preservation can raise hackles in any community with citizens entrenched on opposite sides, but if we leave the argument over old buildings alone for a moment, then we’re only left with a recap of Mr. Michael’s business acumen, which as a small business owner, personally confuses me.

To begin with, he either failed to consider the differences between the Oxford and Como markets or was blinded by potential dollar signs in his new venture. Como ain’t Oxford and boasts an entirely different demographic, entirely loyal to Como’s unique roots. We’re not a college town filled with potential young blues aficionados, ready to hear international Blues acts … which incidentally, we’re still waiting to hear.

Since his arrival, continual questions have been raised, and deflected with hostility, about the rightful and legal owner of the building in question. Why?  

Second, he arrived not in a spirit of interest or curiosity, but with a stiff arm and belligerent attitude. Not a real smart move when trying to court business from a slim population of about a 1,000 souls, many of whom were born or raised on the local soil that they cherish. To say he immediately offended the sensibilities of many would be an understatement.

Prior to his opening Rooster Blues, Mr. Michaels had no physical or financial stake in the town. On the other hand, Como’s current small business owners possess the ability to see where the real economic potential lay in the town — in its character and originality — but they’re also contributing members of the community. When he could have left the building untouched and reaped tax benefits as high as 25 percent, Michaels threw that economic advantage to the wind without a second thought.

When the local preservation group repeatedly asked that he work with them, he refused to engage in a reasonable process, choosing instead to elevate the discussion to the city level.

So enters the city and all attempts to reach a compromise which seemed promising and reasonable.

Mr. Michaels agreed in principal to the compromise of setting funds aside to restore the building upon his departure. Minutes recorded his agreement.

At the last meeting, it became clear that Mr. Michaels has no intention of upholding his end of the bargain. In fact, his last words to one preservation member were “tell it to the judge.”

It appears if Rooster Blues doesn’t succeed, Mr. Michaels is as bent on slamming the door behind him as he was in kicking it open when he came to town only a short six months ago. Over the last few months, even those who were adamantly opposed to his destroying the original facade of an 1898 building, walked through his restaurant doors. Why?  

Because even his opposition rose above the fray to support his local business.

Mr. Michaels has made himself an “involuntary public figure” because of his increased visibility with regards to opening Rooster Blues in Como, thus giving media the right to report an editorial opinion. The Como alderman and mayor as public officials cannot avoid editorial scrutiny and don’t enjoy any privileges when it comes to commentary. An attorney cannot bar the publication of editorial as intimated at the last meeting.

Moving behind closed doors makes me nervous and should also the citizens of Como. With so little proof of honor or integrity displayed in this process, who stands to gain from closed-door deals, the destruction of more goodwill and a town further divided? No one in Como.

And Mr. Michaels? Perhaps he’ll have his way, he’ll have his fight, he’ll have his day but will he have his business? I wonder. And I think any reasonable business owner would ponder the same thought. His anger comes at a high price, be it here in Como or anywhere on the planet, forfeiting the potential for more common cents… or common sense.