Best of the Heights celebrates our local businesses

For the last eight years, FutureHeights has hosted a Best of the Heights contest to help Heights residents celebrate and appreciate the variety of locally owned independent businesses that enrich our quality of life. Each year, a committee of FutureHeights board members meets to select the categories. The committee changes the categories each year in order to enable different businesses to win.

Over the years, we’ve also tried various methods of ensuring a fair contest. For example, for the past two years, we required that each ballot have at least half of the categories filled out in order to be valid. We hoped that this would discourage ballot stuffing and ensure that people were voting for a variety of businesses in keeping with the spirit of the contest. We also required that each voter provide his or her contact information on the ballot to ensure that a person votes only once.

Despite these measures, we received complaints from various business owners that the same businesses were winning again and again.

This year, we changed the contest rules in an attempt to enable new businesses to win. We decided to have a nomination period from May 1 through June 15, and then to select finalists from among the nominees for a final voting period that would run from July 1 through Aug. 30. We thought that having a list of finalists to choose from might make it easier for voters, and we hoped more people would vote.

We also believed that if the committee chose the finalists from among the nominees, in cases where a business had won consistently in a particular category, the committee would select other nominees as finalists, thus ensuring that we would have new winners this year. Those removed from the finalist pool would be recognized for “continuing excellence” at the award ceremony.

This plan introduced an element of subjectivity that previously had been absent from the process. Although people complained that the same businesses seemed to win year-after-year, it had been strictly a popularity contest—whoever received the most votes won—we made no adjustments. Now, however, that was exactly what we were proposing to do, and it turns out that in attempting to level the playing field, we made the contest less fair.

The implementation of our plan also proved difficult. Having the nomination period end on June 15, and needing to print the ballot in the July issue of the Heights Observer, meant that we only had one week to choose the finalists—and several committee members were out of town. We also didn’t have an effective plan to communicate with those businesses that had been removed from the pool.

The result was that we removed three businesses from the finalist pool in their respective categories—Jazzercise, Whole Foods and Washington & Lee Service—because they were perpetual winners. We were wrong, however, about Jazzercise. Although the business had been a finalist for several years, it had won the contest only twice.

We had made a mistake, but it was too late. The ballots had been printed and the voting had started.

While well-intentioned, our manipulating of the nomination results resulted in an error that harmed a business, and for that we truly apologize.

Another change we made in the process resulted in another error. We decided to use our Constant Contact program—the same one we use for sending our weekly e-news—for online voting. We didn’t anticipate that the program had a link for the survey’s start page that was different from the survey greeting, and we ended up sending out a bad link. Our readers soon caught that error, and we apologize for that one, as well.

Next year, we resolve to learn from this year’s mistakes. We will do everything we can to ensure that the contest is fair and error-free.

On Sept. 23, we will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest and those who have achieved continuous excellence. We invite you to celebrate with us. The truth is that whether they are winners, finalists or nominees, we love them all! Our local independently owned businesses are what give the Heights its unique character. They give us special places to walk to and enjoy. They provide goods and services that we need. When we spend our money at these businesses, instead of at a large chain store, we know that more of our money will stay in our community, contributing to a stronger local economy.

Join us in celebrating our Best of the Heights at 6:30 p.m. at Dobama Theatre on Monday, Sept. 23. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the event. Your ticket includes nibbles and beer or wine, music by local folk-rock band Oldboy and the chance to network with the owners of our local businesses.

For more information, call 216-320-1423 or e-mail We look forward to seeing you there.

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

Read More on Opening the Observer
Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 1:22 PM, 08.30.2013