We're actually doing well in Jasper, thank you

Ed Howell
Posted 5/18/17

And now, let us get a reality check on these closings. Sit down. Take a deep breath. Ok, let’s start.

No question people are concerned in Jasper about the evaporating retail landscape. The current list now includes G. Mays and Sons, Solid Image …

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We're actually doing well in Jasper, thank you

Posted

And now, let us get a reality check on these closings. Sit down. Take a deep breath. Ok, let’s start.

No question people are concerned in Jasper about the evaporating retail landscape. The current list now includes G. Mays and Sons, Solid Image Fitness, Bull Building Supply, JCPenney, Kmart and the Chick-fil-A in the Jasper Mall. Certainly, lumped together it looks grim.

No doubt, business regulations, particularly involving health care, have been tough on small business. The economy in this area has been slower to bounce back as well. But I would hasten again to look at some of the details.

G. May and Sons and Bull Building Supply can be attributed to health and/or lack of family to take over the business. Bull and, I imagine to some extent, Solid Image Fitness had major competition from large chains, such as Home Depot and Planet Fitness. Kmart always paled somewhat to Walmart, as well, but it and JCPenney have been in a national death grip, and if they didn’t go now, they would have gone later probably.

Frankly, the retail landscape is changing altogether. Shopping malls have suffered worse than ours in some areas, as nationally large shopping malls have been on a downward curve as housewives no longer have time to linger there, preferring to go to outdoor big box stores. I still say the Jasper Mall has not been so affected, as several entrance points have been available to get in and out fairly quickly, especially as it is a smaller mall — although I don’t know that I see large crowds that just linger going from store to store as much as I used to. But you do see shoppers there, and I think Kmart and JCPenney were possibly outdated names as far as attraction anchors. New anchors could help.

Retailers such as those two anchors, who have been around for a century, have not been able to adapt to Internet commerce. And, let’s face it, sometimes businessmen of all levels make bad business decisions, and who knows what takes place out of public view. But altogether we find that we are in the middle of not a local retail earthquake but a national one.

I’ve already heard some complaining about why the current administration at City Hall has let this happen. Well, Mayor David O’Mary just took over the wheel of the ship six months ago, and it would be hard to imagine what he could have done to scuttle that many businesses in one fell swoop. This is out of the control of local politicians. All they can do is regroup to try to entice other retailers to come in.

The crazy concern of this is, frankly, that sometimes business can be more reactionary than one might expect, and that some retailers will look at all these closings and think something really is wrong with the area, which may be accidentally shortsighted without the perspective — but on the fly, that is how it might come off to prospects in a hurry to weed down the list. That is why it will be important to fill some of these spaces, and quickly, if that is possible.

At the same time, I can tell you we still get ribbon-cutting requests. We have had A-1 Appliance, a Southeastern appliance parts company, to open downtown with experienced help. The Walker Baptist Medical Center complex keeps expanding and renovating. Sleep Inn and Waffle House just opened at U.S. Interstate 22, where people seem to swarm like bees at all hours. Aldi, a grocery store, and Harbor Freight have gone over like gangbusters in standalone businesses. Milo’s has announced plans to come, you will remember. Again, Planet Fitness came in and became immediately popular.

I can tell you restaurants are doing fine. I was in downtown Jasper Thursday night and Monday night, and I found cars and people all over the place, as we now have several restaurants there, some of which looked like they had good traffic. It looked downright trendy. I’m told some people are coming from as far away as Gardendale to eat regularly at some of these downtown restaurants, because they like the wonderful atmosphere. Johnny Brusco’s decision to move downtown only adds to the variety and selection of these spots, whose success could even lead to loft apartments in time.

The Jasper Civic Center always stays busy, and even has a popular church, Desperation Church, headquartered there Sundays and Wednesdays (along with other major churches downtown). Bevill State Community College is not going anywhere, and reasons abound why something as major as the new Jasper High School get constructed. Jasper’s Walmart is still huge and attracts many shoppers from across the area, as do some of the other retails stores, ranging from Big Lots and Hobby Lobby to Belk. Walker Baptist Medical Center also anchors a large medical community that attracts families from across the area.

Remind yourself that all of these entities bring not only direct spending but indirect spending at gas stations, restaurants, hotels and the like. Events, such as the fishing tournaments and the Foothills Festival, also attract large amounts of people. That still has a major effect on the economy, and we have the potential to grow. We are hearing of prospects ranging from the interstate to the shopping centers.

And I hate to toot our own horn, but you still have a daily newspaper, the Daily Mountain Eagle, that is paid attention to in the Birmingham and Northwest Alabama markets, so we can give attention for advertisers. I have been shocked of late how many people from Winfield, my old hometown, are reading the paper, and I know they are coming here to eat and shop because I run into them up here.

In the end, yes, we have been in shock about losing some long-time retail establishments, but we are not the only ones experiencing this. The key is to not let the changing landscape rattle us, and to learn to adapt to the changing markets, as well as concentrate to bring in more industrial jobs, tourism attractions (which is a broad category, including festivals) institution jobs (banks, hospitals, government offices, etc) that will help to fuel retail. We have been making progress, and we should keep our eye on long-term goals.

We will be fine. Just breathe.

Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagl’e news editor.