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Sound Behind Pottstown’s Cash Registers Is Music

The northeast corner of High and Hanover streets, at the heart of downtown Pottstown

POTTSTOWN PA – “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast,” English playwright and poet William Congreve wrote 314 years ago. If he was psychic, he might have added, “it pumps up downtown shopping too.”

At least, that’s what merchant testimonials pouring in to the Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority (PDIDA) office on High Street seem to indicate.

Two borough of Pottstown blogs, Roots Of Revitalization and GoldenCockroach, reported during the weekend (Oct. 8 and 9, 2011) about the downtown shopping district’s efforts to chase loiterers, potential criminals, and other unsavory characters from High Street and elsewhere by playing operatic and instrumental music over its loudspeakers.

Just music, albeit music that probably ranks low on the charts of the population PDIDA wanted to target.

PDIDA made a decision “to start a progressive movement in town to get rid of some of the vagrancy issues we face daily … with NO COST to taxpayers,” the organization’s president, Sheila Dugan told Roots of Revitalization. During its first day of experimentation, she said, “we had many loiterers hanging around just minutes before we put the music on. Within a half-hour … the streets began to clear. Many merchants were amazed (as were we!) but it did work!”

Amazed may be understatement.

“I just had to let you know how excited we are here,” Lastick Furniture, 269 High St., reported. “There were a few … customers over the weekend who wanted to know where all the ‘regulars’ were. I told them about the music and they were amazed at the results, but very pleased.”

We “can actually see the music working every time it’s tried,” Ben Moscia at the Pottstown Farmers Market, 300 High St., added. “The benches in front of the parking lot adjacent to our building are usually full of people who aren’t shy about making noise, littering, spitting, cussing loudly. When the music is playing, no problem; they go away. I saw it with my own eyes again today.”

“The music is working. Good going,” Ink And Essence, 241 High St., chimed in.

“Hooray! We were jumping around like bugs on a hot griddle,” the bloggers at GoldenCockroach wrote. “It was actually great to be downtown again. Nobody came up begging for a buck or a cig. That alone is huge, because lately there have been more panhandlers than shoppers on High Street.”

PDIDA doesn’t claim originality in using music to master the shopping environment. Roots of Revitalization noted that a variety of studies “show music can eliminate non-purposeful loitering in business districts.” The organization, Dugan said, merely paid attention to the results of others, and so far can claim similar findings.

Now, she added, the tunes need only some tuning up. “There are kinks that we need to fix,” Dugan acknowledged to Roots of Revitalization. “Regularly we will be out looking at every speaker, its direction, and what we can do to resolve sound level issues.” PDIDA’s equipment is “a bit antiquated, but we feel we can resolve these issues quickly and at little to no cost,” she said.

“We’re proud of PDIDA and the borough for thinking outside the box and exploring an idea that has real merit,” GoldenCockroach crowed. “Keep the music,” its bloggers wrote, “diss the thugs.”

Photo by the Urban Land Institute

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