BETHANY, Okla. - A fat blue line painted along the city limits is supposed to help this town's bottom line.
The point of the 18-inch-wide stripe is to make it obvious to shoppers where Bethany ends and neighboring Oklahoma City and Warr Acres begin.
The cash-strapped town, desperate for sales tax dollars, is trying to keep its residents from mistakenly driving outside the jagged city boundaries to dine, shop or get their cars fixed.
"When you shop past the blue line, you're supporting the police and fire departments in Oklahoma City and Warr Acres not Bethany," said City Manager Dan Galloway, one of the brains behind the line. "Before we convince our people they need to shop here, we better make certain they know where Bethany is."
Bethany, population 21,000, can use all the help it can get.
The city hasn't filled 14 staff positions, including two police officers and two firefighters, because it doesn't have the money, Galloway said. Bethany brings in $185 per capita each year in sales tax, compared to $455 in Oklahoma City and about $300 in Warr Acres.
"Things are getting pretty lean," the city manager said.
But, he says, there's proof the blue line gimmick is starting to work.
After the line was painted early this fall, city council members began handing out blue-trimmed window decals to the town's some 300 businesses. The decals, which say "Bethany Means Business," have been spotted in windows and doors all around town and in at least one business a few blocks outside the city limits.
A city official counted 27 decals at an Oklahoma City steakhouse on windows, doors and even the food bar. The restaurant reluctantly removed them, saying they had been good for business, Galloway said.
And the line and decals color coordinated with Bethany's blue street signs made the town's northeastern border city a bit nervous. Warr Acres has put up signs near the entrance to Bethany that say, "Warning: Higher Taxes Ahead."
Bethany's city sales tax is 4 percent, compared with 2.5 percent in Warr Acres.
The line is only part of Bethany's plan to break down its anti-business image, which has roots to the early 1900s. The town's original 40 acres were donated to a group associated with the Church of the Nazarene, and the inhabitants prohibited the sale of alcohol or tobacco.
The anti-business attitude remained at least through the 1960s and 1970s, when residents unsuccessfully fought a grocery store that moved to Bethany.
Now the town has evolved, even buying 14 acres of prime real estate with intentions of enticing a hotel and some restaurants. The city also has taken $7,500 out of an economic development fund to hire an Oklahoma City marketing team, whose task is to improve the town's business image.
They intend to emphasize Bethany's historic downtown, just off historic Route 66 and full of antique stores.
"After 60 or 70 years of saying business is not welcome, it's going to take some time to reverse that," said Jeb Reid with the marketing company Big Ideas.
Bethany business owners aren't reporting any huge jumps in income, but they are appreciative of the city's support.
"I think it's wonderful they're doing something," said Mike Kurtz, manager of Auto Pro. "Bethany will need to stay on top of it though, keep encouraging people to spend money for the tax base."
Meanwhile, businesses on the outside of the blue line are hoping people don't notice it.
"We're a pretty busy store," said Dale Bennett, an Oklahoma City clerk just across the line at Dolly Madison Bakery, where many of the customers are from Bethany. "I've never seen where it affects us."
The line will become a lot harder to ignore in the next few weeks, though. City officials are having it painted a brighter blue and 8-feet wide.
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