By Dan Pool, Editor
If our archives went back far enough, I am certain there would be stories on buggy whip makers and blacksmiths upset by the city not doing enough to promote commerce.
In the more than two decades I have written for this newspaper, I can recall a steady cycle of groups forming to address the perceived deficiency du jour on our main drag. These problems are always cited as the reason cash registers aren’t ringing more steadily.
Among the problems the town has vanquished over the years:
• Overhead power utility poles made the town look bad. This was addressed in the early 90s and the town is indisputably snazzier.
• Sidewalk sales blocked foot traffic on Main Street. These have been eliminated, along with curbside vending machines.
• The former faded orange façade of Bill’s Dollar Store, which sat on the corner of Stegall was thought by some to be so atrocious that it hampered commerce all along the street. Now that building is one of the nicest in town.
• The above also went for the former blue NAPA building’s paint job. The color of that building had the effect of a red flag on a cartoon bull to many people, provoking rage. The building has been repainted and recently sold and will be fully renovated.
• The general Main Street streetscape. This has been gradually but significantly addressed with brick accents in the sidewalks, the relocated Oglethorpe Monument and the downtown fountain water park.
• The homeless shelter/junk store that once dominated the south end of town housed in an old hospital on the corner of Spring Street. This building was completely demolished by the City of Jasper and is now a pleasant grassy area.
Let’s give credit to Mayor John Weaver and the Jasper city councils of the past two decades. For this small town, “You’ve come a long way baby.”
But according to some people and groups there is always one more thing that must be done to really boost business here. Even now both the Jasper Merchants and a new chamber-led group are working to somehow improve downtown.
For appearance, and considering what Jasper has to work with, I challenge anyone to find a drastically better looking Main Street. Furthermore, if you look at Jasper history you will see business ebbs and flows on Main Street regardless of power poles, awnings or the color scheme of neighboring buildings. The idea that making small appearance changes will spur commerce is not empirically supported.
It would be nice if we had a town square, halfway along Main. It would be nice if we had some 100-year-old markers in a grassy area with ancient oaks. It would be nice if our courthouse were an antebellum marvel.
But even if we had all these amenities, I am not convinced we’d see a boom in downtown business (and please note where this newspaper is located - 94 N. Main).
Blue Ridge is often tossed out as an ideal. But bear in mind Blue Ridge is blessed with a nearby large lake, trout streams, a river, a tourist train, state parks and a slew of mountain cabin rentals.
The downtown there takes advantage of what it already has, and adds to it. The downtown there is the cart that reaps the rewards, not the horse that does the work.
We can’t make our own town into a similar destination without enough bona fide attractions that are open everyday. Stops that justify someone making a special trip here. Too often groups began by touting tourism and marketing with considering the exact attractions we are promoting.
Rather than creating multi-faceted plans, how about just reminding people to shop local when possible.
And instead of creating a group to suggest changes, how about making the appeal directly to Main Street business owners while you are buying something there.
In my opinion, the best thing we can do to help Main Street is simple – shop there.