Banks County Opinions...

JUNE 30, 2004


Column

By:Shar Porier
The Banks County News
June 30, 2004

$363 million???
Federal employees got a day off in honor of former President Ronald Reagan at a cost to us taxpayers of $363 million. $363 million!!!
Who would have thought one day could cost so much money.
I wonder if he would have thought it appropriate to spend that much money with a trade deficit in the trillions of dollars.
Makes me shudder. Comes close to feeling like being scammed.
(On second thought, it should not come as a surprise that the Bush administration would capitalize on the death of a man many think of as a great president. It was a good way to boost Republican support and at the same time distract attention from the war that is still killing our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.)
But, back to this holiday bucket of cash being doled out like it’s bottomless. When you stop to add it all up – the 10 federal holidays a year cost us $3.63 billion.
We are in an economic crisis and the feds get the day off?
Our jobs are being outsourced to other companies — (Call the Sears 800 number to order parts and you’ll be talking to Ravi.) and the feds get the day off?
The country has a trade deficit of trillions of dollars and the feds get the day off? I cannot help feeling, excuse the pun, “fed” up.
In fact, all the holidays the federal, state and local governments observe during these hard times seem as a slap in the face to hard-working, blue collar Americans.
The average American is lucky to get Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Independence Day off from work. It doesn’t seem fair.
At $363 million just for the feds for one day, think of what the cost of one holiday amounts to when state and local governments are figured in. There are billions and billions of dollars being spent, billions and billions of wasted hours.
Why aren’t non-essential holidays like Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, Presidents Day, Columbus Day and, yes, even Martin Luther King Day seen as “fat” worth trimming. I don’t believe the former presidents would mind, they knew the value of a dollar. Columbus did not even land on American shores. And, I know in my heart, what Dr. King would say about it.
Here in Georgia, in addition to the 10 federal holidays, the state also recognizes Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday.
Days and days of work are piling up while government employees play. Maybe the FBI and the CIA would be able to use the additional time to actually communicate what’s happening, share information, find those missing suspected terrorists that are “at-large”. Maybe DOT could lay a few more miles of asphalt, fill a few more pot holes. Maybe the legislative members could actually read the bills they pass. Maybe our kids would do better in school. Think of all that could be done with those millions of billions of hours.
If we are supposed to gird up our loins and make it on what little we can, work two jobs to buy food and provide a roof over our heads, be frugal, is it too much to ask that our governments do the same?
$363 million for one day. How can we responsibly believe we can afford to waste that?
Shar Porier is a reporter for The Banks County News.

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Column

By: Jana Mitcham
The Banks County News
June 30, 2004

The rise and fall and rise of the small town
I was reading a book recently that touched on the demise of a small rural Southern town in the early 1970s when “Bargain City” built on its outskirts. One by one, the long-time merchants were forced to shut down, unable to compete with the mass of merchandise and lower prices available at the “superstore.”
We’ve all heard that the emergence of the “superstore” was the death of downtown in small towns. In the toss-up between a store where you could be called by name and the tens of thousands of square feet of an anonymous, yet convenient (except that you wait in line forever), merchandise bonanza in one spot, the “mom and pop” shops lost out.
Actually, some people say that the trend of a dying downtown started a long time ago. We know that locally, some of the “boom” towns that arose with the advent of the railroad and the “King Cotton” era lost some or most all of their “boom” when the boll weevil hit the area and then the railroad days were over.
Others say the rise of the automobile in the 1920s and 1930s signaled the beginning of the end for the walkable downtown.
And then, there is the inevitable argument that the “superstore,” coming in later years, along with the “bypasses” and further outcroppings of retail businesses, did contribute to the demise of the downtown. From the supermarket to the mall to the “superstore.” Some argue that the “superstore” was good for the economy, creating a healthy competition among merchants. I think we all know how that story really goes — did you hear the latest on one particular “superstore” seemingly taking over the world?
Out of curiosity, I typed “superstore” in google and got 3,300,000 results. Imagine. Three million. From PC Superstore to New Age Superstore, Motorcycle Superstore, Vacation Superstore, Outdoor Superstore, Jesus Christ Superstore....you name it, from your work time to your leisure time and even to your spiritual life, there is a superstore to accommodate you. It is convenient, a superstore or a mall, no doubt about it, and you can no longer find everything you need within walking distance elsewhere, so the concept thrives.
Still, it’s interesting to note the growing backlash to the “superstore.” Groups like the Local Business Alliance or the Buy Local Campaign in states across the country are fighting for support of hometown businesses. A Maine town reportedly recruited to find an independent pharmacy, rather than a chain one, for its downtown. And, internationally, Ireland set a cap back in 1998 on the size of stores allowed. U.S.-type “Superstores” were banned and out-of-town retail was strongly discouraged. “Where new developments compromise (downtown vitality), they should be rejected,” one statement said.
I do vaguely remember a different downtown Jefferson and Commerce and Athens, although I know now they were surely on the other side of earlier “heydays.” I remember Owen Webb’s shop on the square, with its squeaky screen door and hardwood floors and ceiling fans and an ice cream bar where you could sit on tall, swiveling stools. Just down the sidewalk was the five and dime store and just across the square, McEver’s Sporting Goods with T-shirts they would decal with your name and whatever design you chose while you watched.
I remember a department store in downtown Commerce and two department stores in downtown Athens. I remember when McDonald’s was the only thing at what is now Banks Crossing. And I remember when the mall was built in Athens and Sky City and then Wal-Mart came to Commerce. The gravitational flow, that downhill tilt to consumer central.
The small town downtown wasn’t perfect, of course, just like anything in “the good ol’ days.” Surely you couldn’t get everything you needed and wanted and lack of competition surely inflated prices from time to time, but it could also be up-close and personal. As the monster stores take over, prices will also climb. Again, there won’t be any other options.
No, the small town downtown as it was is a thing of the past and is most likely gone forever.
That said, there is a resurgence of interest in the downtown, in “downtown revitalization,” “downtown development,” and so forth. Locally, we have Better Hometown Jefferson and the Downtown Development Authority for both Commerce and Maysville.
I was interested to see on our drive last week to Tybee Island just how many small towns are “revitalizing” their downtown areas. Some people say that it is a cookie cutter look — many towns having the same sort of brickwork and street lamps as the next — but others seem to feel that improved appearance will bring about better business.
The “new downtown” won’t ever be what the “old downtown” was. It can’t be. Those days are gone, those particular needs are gone as options abound. So what will the new downtown be? What will it have that the mall or the “superstore” doesn’t? A pretty setting, downtown charm, the “oomph” of a unique local flavor?
Pretty is good, but it isn’t enough. The charm is important, but content is also crucial. If it looks good, but there’s nowhere that you want to shop, eat or generally spend time and money, what is the point?
I work in downtown Jefferson and enjoy being able to walk to lunch, to the drugstore, to the bank, to buy a birthday gift, but what about those who don’t work here?
What would keep people close by, spending a little more money locally, rather than heading out to the mall? These are questions the local downtown revitalization groups are struggling to answer.
And it’s not just about revamping existing buildings and not having a ghost town downtown, as many small towns eventually do, it’s about putting revenue back into the local economy and cutting back on the sprawl of empty “box” buildings left behind as the “superstore” moves its way across town. It’s about how much money generated by a local business gets put back into the community — some say it turns over about seven times — as compared to what a large franchise sends to its corporate office.
It’s a push-pull scenario, as the rise and fall and rise of “the downtown” is on the upswing again, yet urban sprawl continues its steady crawl.
Jana Adams Mitcham is features editor of The Jackson Herald and a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.


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