By Dan Pool, Editor
Much has been made in recent months of the increased vibrancy in downtown Jasper. Often this praise, whether it’s in a comment online or was used to support incumbents in the recent council elections, is directed to a general “city,” as though there is one controlling force of all the business pieces here.
Ridiculous. Jasper (and the other commercial areas in the county) draw their character, first and foremost, from the numerous, varied and thoroughly unconnected restaurant owners, shop keepers, lawyers, bankers, brewers, salesmen, landlords, realtors, doctors, merchants – the small business men and women who anchor this community.
While the city, specifically Jasper’s government, does a commendable job to provide the basic infrastructure and streetscape, police and fire protection, these would be of limited value without the businesses who line those streets from the Walmart area on the north to the VA clinic commercial area on the south.
And don’t forget the rising commercial presence in Foothills and Talking Rock and Tate, not all served by a city infrastructure but all growing and offering interesting shopping choices.
Consider what makes the corner of Highway 53 and Main Street pop? It’s most assuredly the exteriors and operations of The Old Mulehouse on one corner; the church/Red Bean coffee shop on the other; Jasper Drugs and Gifts with its clocktower, and the bank’s attractive landscaping across the street.
While visitors may appreciate the decorative light poles and plantings, they are here to see a local business, maybe more than one. Jasper and Talking Rock both boast nice walking experiences partly due to the work the cities have done but more so because of the attractive shops.
As the editor of this paper, who is both a longtime business and building owner, I come to this position from seeing firsthand what is required to maintain a commercial building (remodeling/maintenance/insurance costs skyrocketing), plus knowing how much other owners have put into their businesses. And this is small compared to the challenge of starting a small business from scratch.
Whether it’s a distillery or a florist, the people behind the scenes have invested their own money, time and effort to create a vibrant downtown. If it goes badly, you better believe it’s personal – savings, hard work, dreams down the drain.
I worry their efforts get overshadowed. From the lawyers who go an extra step to see that their buildings add to the town’s appearance, to the volunteer who arranges bands for downtown concerts, we don’t acknowledge enough that small businesses are the backbone of the community, providing jobs to neighbors, donations for local needs and tax revenue to fund what the government does.
Consider for another second, how good would the streetscapes look if a building behind them has boarded up windows? No amount of infrastructure will alter the image of a closed, run-down building. Better to have a dollar store than an empty building with a weed-filled parking lot.
The best way to be sure our businesses feel supported is by patronizing them. That and a little credit where credit is due, these businesses have raised the game all across this county.
Where you spend your money is a political choice. What do you support, small town America or a faceless online leviathan? Especially this holiday season, consider what community you are a part of, online or your Pickens County neighbors?