Mayor Harvey Hall's enthusiasm for reaching out to local businesses nearly got the best of him Thursday morning.
As one of about 130 volunteers participating in the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce's first-ever Business Walk, Hall went door to door asking downtown stores and restaurants how business was going and what the chamber could do to help.
The surveys were supposed to consist of three simple questions. They were also supposed to take no more than five minutes each, the idea being that the volunteers would reach at least 450 businesses -- perhaps as many as 600 or more -- between 10 and 11 a.m.
But the mayor, it turns out, is a very inquisitive customer. He didn't stop at just three questions, and he found it hard to limit himself to five minutes.
At the House of Flowers florist on 19th Street, for example, Hall didn't take co-owner Amanda Klawitter's statement that "business is very good" as a sufficient answer.
"Why is that? Why do you think it is?" the mayor asked her, going off script.
"We do more than just one thing," she responded.
Before long, he and Klawitter were talking about cigarette butts, panhandling and parking -- all legitimate business concerns, just not part of the official survey. Hall ended up apologizing to her for being "really enthusiastic" before moving on to the next business, where he proceeded to do much the same.
Chalk it up to getting caught up in the moment. It was easy to do, given the spirit of the day.
The event drew heavy hitters from across the city -- top business executives, council members, county supervisors and state representatives, as well as the chamber's usual team of ambassadors and staff.
Working in small teams, they fanned out across the city, reaching out to speakers of Spanish and English alike. They left behind resource directories and, for businesses unable to answer questions, advice to visit a website (bakersfieldchamber.org/businesswalk) where surveys can be filled out until Feb. 8.
Hatched by the chamber's new president and CEO, Cindy Pollard, the event has several goals. One is to gauge the city's overall business climate. Another is to provide input for the chamber to develop or refine its local business assistance programs. The results are also intended to guide the chamber's state and federal advocacy work.
At a 15-minute, pre-event pep rally at the chamber's downtown offices Thursday morning, speakers expressed how glad they were that so many people had come together for the cause.
County Supervisor David Couch likened the event to client retention efforts: Supporting existing businesses so they don't fail is better than trying to recruit new ones to take their place, he said.
"It's much easier to keep a client than get a new one," he said.
Chamber Chairman Garrett Ming, vice president of Jim Burke Ford, called the event an "ideal way to get a pulse of what's going on."
"It's an hour, but it's also an hour well served," he said.
Survey results are expected to be distributed publicly in March or April.