A few weeks ago, we had an editorial, Main Street is alright the way it is. It provoked a barrage of response in letters to the editor, online, on our social media and in person. People get fired up about downtown Jasper.
To further the discussion, we are presenting some of the responses with additional comments.
• Most people who commented expressed an opinion that Jasper’s Main Street and downtown are unique, with a certain charm, but at the same time is a tough business environment.
There is clearly some truth to this belief that businesses there are vulnerable. It was disappointing to see the Italian restaurant, Lolo’s, pack it up so quickly after opening and also that Main Street Clothing closed after many years. On the other hand, recall that Moore Furniture and Jasper Drug have been in business for decades on Main Street, along with 61 Main and Pickens County Chiropractic who have established themselves as solid businesses.
• “All of Main Street reaps the benefits of more food, beverages, and establishments that encourage our local citizens as well as visitors to stop in and enjoy our amazing town.” Well put. We do need more. And we would point to the rarely mentioned, but massive spots, the old Sidebar, a block east of Main and the old federal building, a block west as two blackholes that need re-filling • “When you drive through town on a Saturday after 3 p.m. and it looks like a ghost town... Makes one wonder...where is all the people? Is it because there isn't enough on Main Street? – A vey valid observation.
• “Highway 515 – a major road to get somewhere else.” Thousands of people drive through on weekends, but blasting by at 60 m.p.h. produces little benefit for us. The challenge: Get some percentage to stop. The answer? Open for discussion and debate.
• Other people made comments that business was shifting to the highway and deserting downtown. This may be true in a lot of places, and it may be happening here, but very slowly, if at all. Consider that with the exception of one new strip beside Walmart, our four-lane hasn’t seen any business boom since the Walmart opened and that was years ago. A Hardees is under construction and a Dunkin Donuts/convenience combo has plans out there. But that is where you expect fast food to locate.
• In a few related comments, several people complained that the city of Jasper only encourages fast food restaurants. Not true. It’s more a case of taking what they are getting. It’s not like the city planning folks had an option of permitting the Dunkin Donuts or a high tech manufacturing company. Who wanted to open is who we got.
• That being said, quite a few people opined that the city of Jasper has too much red-tape and hoops to jump through to get a business open. Some in the business have made this complaint so there must be some truth behind it.
•Others have said that the city and the chamber of commerce aren’t doing enough to promote business. We agree, but also reply, “exactly what do you want them to do?” This is a case where willingness and desire to help are there; new ideas are needed.
• Tourism is often tossed out as the Holy Grail of increased vitality for small towns. But, at this point Jasper is simply not positioned to take advantage of it. Here is the problem, a tourist stops you on a Wednesday afternoon on Main Street and asks what should they do to spend a few hours. What is your answer? Before we can talk tourism, we must have attractions that justify someone driving here.
• Finally a lot of people say what downtown needs are some new businesses; brewpub, book store and movie theatre are mentioned. In some of the comments, there was accusatory tone that Jasper lacked “cool” or “hip” businesses as though there was a plot to keep them out of town. One person even directly stated that the local powers that be were squashing small business dreams of opening up neat shops. Absolutely untrue. These would all be nice to have, but, they will come only when someone in the private sector with the financing believes they are a viable business to open here. With the exception of state laws for the brewery, no one is opposing any of these businesses.
• What’s missing or holding back new business, we would suggest are the lack of shoppers. See above comment about the Saturday ghost town. As we ended the last editorial, we’ll repeat the best thing that can be done to support downtown is to shop there.