Athens bucks recession trends

The word “thriving” isn’t often used to describe the state of the economy these days.  In fact, it’s more of an antonym.


            The same holds true for the downtown areas of many Georgia cities. Deserted streets and for-rent store fronts are a familiar picture.


            Come to Athens on a spring weekend, however, and you will find a very different scenario. The streets are filled with people both during the day and at night.


            Even in the current shaky economy, many Athens businesses don’t foresee having to sacrifice much.


            Mary Cook, the manager of Pitaya, a downtown clothing boutique, said business has slowed some, but weekend sales have been steady.


            “We’ve had to cut back hours and maybe (order) a little less shipment since we don’t sell as much, but with springtime coming…it always slows down in winter,” she said.


            What makes Athens different from so many other places that are struggling to bring in money?


            One factor is the music scene downtown Athens has long been known for. On almost any given night, a show can be found at one of the dozens of music venues.


            Rolling Stone magazine named Athens number one in a list of top 10 “campus scenes that rock” in 2003.  The city also was featured in AirTran’s in-flight magazine in 2007.


            With so much acclaim, the music industry—and the revenue that goes with it—probably won’t be going away any time soon.


            The University of Georgia’s location adjacent to downtown also is a huge source of revenue.


            According to Langford Holbrook, a community development expert from Athens, other college towns such as Valdosta and Statesboro don’t have nearly as prosperous downtowns. Their respective institutions are not located next to downtown, and their colleges are several times smaller than UGA.


            “UGA is huge,” he said. “The money it spends, as well as the money students and employees spend, provides a great economic cushion for the city.”


            Cook said the owner of Pitaya has a dozen other stores, all of which are in college towns.


            “I think what’s helped our store is location,” she said. “We have a lot of foot traffic.”


            Much of that traffic is made up of students, said Holbrook, who perpetually provide a steady source of revenue.


            “Athens is lucky in that it has all these students coming to town,” he said. “They will spend money. They have to eat, drink and be merry.”


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