Meet Your MMD Business Ambassadors: Marie Cortes-Matte & Dennis Beedon
For most businesses, when a person walks in the door, it’s usually because they’re
there to buy something and that’s a welcome visit. Occasionally, business owners find
themselves a captive audience for people who walk in to try to sell them something––
advertising, security systems, etc.––and that momentary disruption of business is not
always so welcome.So, when the Montrose Management District initiated a new business ambassador program in the fall of 2012, some merchants were taken aback by the visits of Marie Cortes-Matte and Dennis Beedon, which fall into an entirely different category.Certainly, the idea of someone stopping to deliver information was one without precedent and made some of the business owners and managers a little leery at first.
“In the very beginning, it was a little bit of a cultural change for them. They hadn’t
been visited like that before with such a personal one-on-one type of relationship.
The project was really put in place to put a face to the name, and with the district
itself,” said Beedon. “But once we got past that barrier, we’ve been totally accepted.” “For me, personally, the first two months were the hardest. I did encounter a few people who didn’t want me to walk in the door. But once the word got around and they knew that we were actually there to provide a service and connect them to the Montrose District team, then now the doors are actually opening faster and easier. There are people who are out there on the street who see me now they’re nicer and friendlier.”
Marie said she found it easiest to walk in with the District’s newsletter in hand so that the merchant could see she was bringing them information. The newsletters frequently feature articles about people they know or other businesses in the neighborhood, so they were more willing to engage in a discussion about that, she said. “Maybe there’s a particular topic that they’re interested in, like visual improvements or public safety,” Marie said. ”And boom! That connects us to a good conversation.”
When the business ambassador program began, Marie was already deeply involved
with the District’s Recycling Committee and its regular recycling mixers. Originally from Los Angeles, she was a teacher in HISD for five years and in Alief ISD for 10 years. The mother of two teenagers holds a bachelor’s degree from Houston Baptist University. She is also actively involved with MOCAH, the Houston Institute for Culture, and with non-profit agencies that support children’s causes.
A 35-year Montrose resident, Beedon was originally from Chicago. When he moved to
Houston, he put his associate’s degree in business to good use working for Enron and
other energy companies until 1992. A second career as an insurance adjuster led him to
work for the City of Houston’s legal department until he retired in 2007. Not one to remain idle, Beedon then began volunteering as an event planner for a variety of charitable fundraisers, with a special affinity for HIV and AIDS awareness. He also served as marketing and development coordinator for the Houston Area Women’s Center.
After living in the neighborhood for so many years and being active in local events,
Beedon was already well-recognized by many restauranteurs and business owners,
and that served as his calling card in the business ambassador program, he said.
With a lot of ground to cover, Beedon and Cortes-Matte set a goal to reach out to 20 to
25 businesses a week, 80 to 100 a month, bringing them news about the improvements
the District is making and asking for feedback. A survey conducted in The Montrose
revealed that advertising and marketing are the key topics of interest for most of the
business community, followed closely by public safety concerns.
“They are seriously interested in marketing––about how to produce more revenue
for themselves,” Beedon said. “They also are adamant about the streets and public
sidewalks — how we need to get progressively active in getting them repaired.”
“They’re also very interested and concerned about security,” he added. “Montrose
has exploded in population growth, and of course, that attracts a different element.
There have not been any serious issues of personal safety, but car break-ins seem
to be a big problem and that comes up all the time.”
The District is addressing this concern with new signage that reminds people who park
their cars in the area to eliminate temptation by locking their cars and removing any
valuables from view. After two or three visits, merchants often open up about how the
economy is affecting their business, Cortes-Matte said.
“That’s one of the things that’s come up. We’d like to be able to provide some
support with classes and education,” she added. “As we move forward, we are
learning what the needs are, and I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes they
have questions we can’t answer, but we can connect them to some of the experts
and help them get things done.” Beedon said he’s had several conversations with merchants about mobility issues and about when the bridges will be lit up.
“They’re very excited because they know those improvements are going to increase traffic to the area. We have more than 2,500 dwellings being built, so that’s going to bring about 5,000 or 6,000 new residents to the District, so that’s a flow of new people who may not have been in Montrose before.”
To be sure, the improvements the District has made have helped raise the profile of
the community, but the buzz about the area’s top-notch restaurants and bars also
have captured national attention. In the last few months, several establishments have
been highlighted in publications like Southern Living magazine, Texas Monthly, and
GQ. Regardless of who is featured, the spillover from this limelight is very good for all
businesses in The Montrose district.
“We’re enjoying this momentum and want to keep it going,” Cortes-Matte said. “We feel lucky that the District is being recognized.” “On behalf of the business ambassador program, I’d like to thank the businesses who have been so nice and so helpful,”
Cortes-Matte said––a sentiment echoed by her colleague. A key component of the success of the business ambassador program is input from the business community, Beedon said.
Both ambassadors would like to invite business owners to answer the survey questions and provide more feedback about some of the things they’d like to see in the future, so the District can refine and improve its services.