Peoples' love for our city has not changed. In fact, it's grown stronger.
Business in Chattanooga may have taken a hit after last week's shootings of four Marines and a Navy sailor, but the city's image likely won't need shoring up, some merchants and others say.
One stark reality is that such events are becoming more common in America, one expert said, citing other mass shooting sites such as Charleston, S.C., Aurora, Colo., and Fort Hood, Texas.
But how the city pulls together and heals the wounds of the rampage will show the world much about Chattanooga, said Don McEachern, who heads the Nashville-based branding firm North Star Destination Strategies.
"I'm not sure a marketing strategy is in order," he said. "I'd hesitate to be too reactionary. I'd think the character of Chattanooga would shine through."
Bob Doak, who heads the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the tourism bureau halted all of its advertising last Thursday after the shootings.
"To me it was a very easy decision," he said. "No TV, no radio, no social media. Common decency will tell you that's what you do."
Doak said plans are to bring the ads back shortly, and he doesn't anticipate any change in how to market the city.
"We will not let this tragedy define Chattanooga," he said. "The outpouring of support from around the world has been incredible. Peoples' love for our city has not changed. In fact, it's grown stronger."
Chattanooga has undergone a well-chronicled turnaround over the past two to three decades. The city cleaned up its once polluted air, stressed its outdoor gifts and stimulated its economy with draws such as the Tennessee Aquarium and businesses including Volkswagen.
Also, it gained the moniker of "Gig City" in recent years with its ultra-fast Internet efforts to woo new technology companies and entrepreneurs.
Mayor Andy Berke said the city has been on a roll. Huge investments downtown, auto companies moving into Chattanooga, unemployment is down, wages are up, he said.
"Those fundamental attributes haven't changed," he said. "We're seen as a city on the rise."
We're seen as a city on the rise.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said on the Senate floor on Tuesday that "Everything in Chattanooga has seemed to be going in the right direction, until this."
Business has been off since the attack on a Lee Highway recruitment office and the U.S. Naval and Marine Resource Center off Amnicola Highway, some merchants said.
Jeff Duport, general manager at Chattanooga World of Beer on Market Street, said business is "noticeably slower."
He thinks the reason is a combination of people "shell shocked" by the tragedy, not knowing how to deal with it, a fear of going outside and the hot temperatures.
"It's a tragic loss," Duport said. "Hopefully we'll never forget and get back to our daily lives."
Duport said he thinks normalcy will return, though "normal won't ever mean the same."
Charles Hendricks, general manager at Taco Mac on Market, said there's been a bit of difference in business at the eatery, too, and he thinks people are staying home to be with loved ones.
"People are wanting to stay home and have grieving time with their families," he said. "It's nothing that's drastically hurting us."
Hendricks said he's hopeful there's not a long-term impact on tourism in the city.
"It was a lone-wolf kind of incident," he said.
McEachern said that a community doing the kind of things to find healing, comfort families and show its commitment to the military are right actions.
"As long as it's organic, that's very appropriate," he said.
Berke said that too much can't be drawn from a few days of fluctuations in business.
Everything in Chattanooga has seemed to be going in the right direction, until this.
"Our city is headed in the right direction," he said.
Dan Summerlin, who directs corporate relations for Chattanooga-based shopping center company CBL & Associates Properties Inc., said he doesn't think the shootings will create "a hangover effect" on people.
"It's very tragic. There's no way it can be diminished," he said. But he added that "things tragically happen all over the place. I think Chattanooga is one of those cities that will rally."
Mike Shuford, who heads the Chattanooga Convention Center, said he hasn't seen any impact in terms of bookings.
What happened last week isn't like the ongoing racial tensions in places such as Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore, he said.
"This is more an isolated incident," Shuford said. If there was an affect, he assumed it would happen to future bookings.
But, he said, he doesn't believe there needs to be any actions taken at this point to bolster the city's reputation.
"That will be something that we'll want to let the dust settle a little and see if it's having a negative affect."
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.
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