Local Business Owners Rally Against the Proposed Elimination of Commercial Areas Director Position.

A mob showed up Tuesday night for the Advisory Board’s Commercial Planning Sub-committee hearing at Brookline’s Town Hall.  Armed, not with pitchforks and torches, but with determination and countless examples, a group (comprised mostly of small business owners and supporters) made an impassioned case against the proposed elimination of Commercial Area Director, Marge Amster’s position.

The meeting, which generally attracts only the five committee members, had to be moved to a larger room when over thirty local entrepreneurs and advocates, lead by Harvey Bravman (Chairman of the Coolidge Corner Merchants Association) showed up in support of the long time city employee.  Amster, who acts as a voice, liaison and source of information for Brookline’s all too important business community was not present, but her presence was felt in the spirited rally that took place on her behalf.

The proposal to eliminate Amster’s position or cut her hours in half came just weeks earlier in an effort to adjust spending in an increasingly gloomy economic climate.  Word spread through the Brookline business community like wildfire, sending many, who rely on Amster’s vital information, support and stewardship, into a panic. Evidence of this resonated in the many speeches given to the committee detailing all that Amster does for them and how much her service would be missed.

Take Modern Pilates owner Lisa Johnson, who cited a seemingly un-ending list of how Amster had helped her over the years; negotiating her lease, alerting her of parking law and zoning changes and coordinating annual events in Brookline, which bring business to her privately owned and operated studio.

A memo was distributed to the committee members, which detailed the fiscal benefits of Amster’s position, including the cost of outsourcing a firm to run Brookline based events like First Light, the loss of commercial tax revenue from business closings and empty commercial spaces, as well as Amster’s extensive community fundraising for charities and other.  In all, Amster’s traceable contribution to Brooklines economy totaled $88,564, over $20,000 more then her annual salary.

Harvey Bravman, whose involvement in Brookline’s commercial district stretches back several decades, argued that, with a budget of over 229 million dollars, cutting Amsters 68,000 dollar salary was just “too big of a risk” to take on protecting over 1.1 billion dollars of commercial property and 3,000 businesses.

Owner of local bakery Clear Flour Bread, Abe Faber continued the call for reconsideration, rattling off a list of other towns in Massachusetts sporting substantially smaller commercial industries who still managed to employ one, or in some cases an entire staff of people who performed these tasks.  Faber pleaded “if we are going to experiment with Brookline’s commercial industry, let’s think of some other way”.

As the hearing moved along, more and more hands shot up, each person waiting to tell their story of how much Amster means and the many different things she does that don’t always show up in simple job description.  Former Commercial Areas Director, Amy Scheckman closed by sharing her own experience and stating plainly “you need someone fully invested (in Brookline’s commercial industry) and full-time is the way to go”.

By the end of the almost three hour hearing, any confusion the committee members had about what Amster did and of her value seemed to have dissipated, one member stating “we didn’t have the metrics (of the position) until now and I appreciate you bringing them to light”. Committee member Steven Spiegel, who was audibly suspicious of the position’s importance at the start of the meeting admitted “I am impressed with what I’ve heard tonight” and said he would sincerely reconsider his previous inclination toward eliminating the job.

The committee voted later that night 2-1 (one abstaining) in favor of keeping Marge Amster’s position full time and will make an official recommendation to do so when the full committee meets next month.