East Ridge business owners Don Britton and David and Julie Curd remember when houses in their city were hard to find, and if you did find a house for sale, it did not stay on the market long.
“I moved here in 1980 and it was pretty much that way then,” said Mr. Britton, who owns East Ridge Transmission. “In the last 10 years, it seems like that trend has turned the other way.”
The three merchants want to turn things back to the way they used to be, when couples moved to East Ridge to raise their families and shopping locally meant never having to leave the city limits.
Together with about 50 other business owners, the Curds and Mr. Britton have formed the East Ridge Merchants Association.
Staff Photo by Meghan Brown-- David Curd, owner of Best Way Printing on Choate Road and president of the East Ridge Merchants Association, prepares a press for a printing job.
The 2-month-old group is the culmination of enthusiasm building around Splash Valley, a water park that opens this summer.
Mrs. Curd said the $12 million project sparked months of talk about forming such a group.
“The common idea was to build a stronger, better community,” Mr. Curd said.
Mr. Curd, 34, and his wife Julie, 31, own Best Way Printing on Choate Road, just off Ringgold Road. Mr. Curd, who has grown up in East Ridge, is the recently elected president of the association.
His first goal for the group is to establish the association’s presence in the community and conduct a membership drive to bring in all of the city’s businesses.
The group also hopes to create a newsletter that will not only go to member merchants, but also to residents of East Ridge.
“One reason (for the merchants association) is to let people understand that East Ridge is a good place to do business,” Mr. Curd said.
Once the membership has been established, the group will work to attract businesses to the city, keep the ones that have been in the area for decades and work on changing the image of East Ridge. They also want to encourage residents to spend their money shopping at stores in the city limits.
The population of the city has declined steadily since 1990, when the U.S. Census Bureau reported a population of more than 21,000. Today, about 19,756 people live in East Ridge, according to census.gov.
East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele attended a merchants association meeting recently and said he is impressed by the excitement of the group’s members.
“They’ve got a real focus to try to get after the some 500 or so businesses” in East Ridge, he said. “Any community, in order to survive, has to have a thriving set of businesses.”
Business started leaving East Ridge in the 1990s when the U.S. economy seemed to shift to large corporations and away from small businesses, Mr. Curd said.
So when the merchants in the city and residents began to hear of a water park that could bring in as many as 6,000 people a day, momentum started to build. People saw an opportunity to revitalize the town, he said.
“It’s really all based around Splash Valley — it was the catalyst that got things going,” Mr. Curd said. “There has always been a want to do bigger things in East Ridge, and it was just something that ignited this energy, and it got everybody excited at the same time.”
Mr. Britton, who has lived in the city for 38 years, said he would like to see the merchants association change the image of businesses in East Ridge.
“Pulling the East Ridge citizens and the business community together, try to improve the quality of businesses, the appearances of businesses, and in doing so I think it will help the whole community,” he said.