Dollars and sense?
A look at how Wall Street affects Morgan County’s main street
By Whitney Skeeters
Morgan County citizens are feeling the impact of the downturn of the national economy according to several retailers and business owners in Madison.
Although businesses downtown report they are getting along all right, many say their sales are down a noticeable amount from previous years. People are forgoing or holding off on certain products in light of recent events.
Joe Houston, owner of Creative Mark, said he has not only seen changing spending habits, but also a much smaller influx of tourists. He has seen too many empty parking spots downtown. He predicts that people are going to be more disciplined in their Christmas shopping and buy fewer things impulsively.
“The uncertainty is a big thing, people just don’t know how this is going to end up,” Houston said. “Everybody’s feeling it, it trickles down and I don’t think anybody can escape it.”
Houston expressed concern over the fact that many businesses bought Christmas merchandise months before the economy became such a permeating issue. He is not sure that he and other retailers will be able to sell it all.
Gussie Knight, owner of Gussie’s House of Flowers, has seen changes in her business as well. Fewer people are sending friendship gifts to each other. However, people are still spending money on important events, such as anniversaries, in typical amounts.
“The men can’t afford to miss the anniversaries,” Knight said.
Nelson Hale, an owner of Harris Furniture, said his business has been hurt. His products are a big investment that consumers do not make impulsively. Most who come in are just window shopping.
“We understand and try to help them decide,” Hale said. “Many people wait for special occasions to justify the big spending.”
Hale has noticed less traffic on the road in front of his store, Highway 441. He said that like him, many are spending less time in their car by trying to complete all of their errands in one trip. He has also been coordinating with customers to deliver as much furniture in one trip as possible.
Bookstores are also seeing drops in sales nation-wide, and Dog Ear Books is no exception.
The owner, Jon Tonge, said that sales are not only down from last year, but he has seen several changes in the purchases made. He is selling less fiction and more books about business, politics, and economics. Although election books are popular, he said he’s sold more books focused on the current economy, in particular "The Subprime Solution" written by Robert Shiller.
He also reported that The New York Times, which he noticed has carried stories about the plummeting economy for weeks, has been selling more than usual.
“People like to read bad news,” Tonge said.
Tim Arnold, assistant manager at Ingles, said although people are not buying as much groceries as they used to, he thinks more people are eating at home to save money.
“They get what’s on sale and what’s the cheapest,” Arnold said.
Many expect restaurants to be affected by the economic slug; however, several of Madison’s downtown restaurants have no complaints so far. Amici has been as steady as usual, even picking up with football season coming in.
David Stone, one of the general managers at Madison ChopHouse Grille, did not report any significant changes. Weekends are strong and weekdays are normal.
According to the Chamber of Commerce, the tourist count has been holding steady. There was a slight increase from August to September. Rosalind Hines works the front desk and has noticed that many tourists are now traveling from inside the state. The guest book reports tourists from Newnan, Covington, Athens, and Watkinsville. She has been told by several of them that they are trying to stay close on the weekends in order to save money.
Although it seems a lot of the visitors are not shopping downtown, they have to eat and restaurants are able to fill any gaps.
Certain businesses have yet to truly feel the impact of the current recession. Mulberry Toys hasn’t been affected according to one of its owners, Michelle Robinette.
“People are going to buy for their kids,” Robinette said. “When they hold back, it isn’t going to be on their son’s birthday.”
Like Robinette, Christy Reed, manager of Scoops, thinks there are some things people just don’t hold back on. She predicts the ice cream business won’t be hurt too much. Especially for families with children, Scoops is a relatively inexpensive, yet special outing.
Coffee shops seem to be another business with products people cannot live without. Barista Georgette Tarpley has not seen the economy affecting coffee sales at Madison's Starbucks.
“People need their caffeine,” Tarpley said.