Certain restaurants can be recession proof if run the right way

Sometimes you want to feel like you’re at home.

Even if it is at a bar on Friday night with a mixture of regulars, college students and one-time attendees.

The Globe, a restaurant and bar located on the corner of Lumpkin St. and Clayton St., is considered one of the better places to eat and have a drink in downtown Athens. But with the economy in the condition it’s in, The Globe proves there are ways to avoid hardship in bad times.

The Globe’s manager, Brent Hedrick, acknowledged businesses in downtown Athens suffering from the recession, but said consistent customers have kept The Globe away from disaster.

“There’s a lot of competition in Athens,” Hedrick said. “I think we’re lucky to have a lot of regulars. I think our lunches have kind of slowed down. People think of us more as a bar instead of a restaurant now. Sometimes we’re not as full as we’d like at lunch.”

Even with lunch not as packed as they have been in the past, Hedrick said the same people come regularly – something Hedrick said has helped The Globe maintain financial security during the recession.

“I think a lot of it is because there’s an ambience to this place,” Hedrick said. “We have a lot of friendly bartenders. When you’re in here, it feels like your home. Those two factors make it fairly homely, to come to a place and spend a couple of hours.”

Conversation is a key factor to The Globe experience, and Hedrick says people converse with each other and the bartenders about a wide range of topics.

“Oh, anything – we talk about gun control. We talk about grenade launchers,” Hedrick said, laughing. “We talk mostly about entertainment and politics.”

Bob May, a 46-year-old warehouse manager from Watkinsville, had just ordered a Newcastle beer before complementing his bartender’s red button-down shirt. May, a regular on Friday nights to The Globe, said he’s been a usual at the bar for almost a decade now.

“I’ve been coming to The Globe for about nine years now,” May said. “It’s the best place to come drink a few beers and relax. My friends come here, and I’ve made friends here. It’s amazing to have this kind of atmosphere in a town like Athens, where college students dominate the scene. It’s nice to have a mix of so many different types of people in one setting.”

Matt Runyan, manager of the restaurant Taco Stand in downtown Athens, said The Globe is “recession proof” because of its regulars, much like his restaurant.

“The Globe is a great example of a recession proof restaurant because all year they have consistent customers,” Runyan said. “I like to think Taco Stand is too because we do well during lunch and have a solid base come in to drink at night.”

University of Georgia student Audrey Batts, a 21-year-old art major from Dalton said she visits The Globe on a semi-regular basis. She said when it’s just her and a couple of friends, The Globe is where they go because of its relaxed environment.

“I love The Globe, the atmosphere, everything about it,” said Batts. “The place is lively and there’s always a good conversation. I’ve met many people, college aged, middle aged, it’s just a great place to hang out at.”

Hedrick said he knew of a couple restaurants and bars hurting in the downtown community but didn’t want to single them out. He said while there’s obvious competition among the local businesses, everyone is treated like family.

“We’re the oldest bar, really,” Hedrick said. “Georgia Bar is technically the oldest bar but they’ve changed ownership several times. But the same guys have owned The Globe for all 20 years we’ve been opened. So we’re kind of a stepping stone, I guess.

Hedrick added that The Globe is also looked to as a place for competitors to gather ideas on how to run, operate and manage their restaurants and bars.

“A lot of other bars have come here for ideas,” he said. “I think it’s accurate, but I don’t know if anyone else would admit it because no one wants to say they have stolen ideas. All the bars, it’s a real community feel. We all look out for each other. If it’s a busy weekend and we run out of vodka, we can run next door and grab some. All the restaurants and bars look after each other. We’re all in it together.”

Laura Bramblett, a bartender at Trapeze on Washington St., said the bar she works for has taken tips from The Globe – especially since Trapeze caters to an older audience.

“My manager has always looked at The Globe as a place to gather new ideas,” Bramblett said. “We don’t play loud music like The Globe, we dim the lights similar to The Globe. And I don’t feel we are copying them, it’s just a good idea so that people can have conversation without screaming into each other’s ears.”

Bramblett added Trapeze has attracted a lot of older locals that wish to relax when drinking as opposed to keeping on their feet. The Globe is this way, offering plenty of tables for seating and a full circular bar reminiscent if the show Cheers.

The Cheers-like environment is what makes The Globe appealing to May.

“It’s kind of like a townie bar, but not quite because there’s the occasional random crowd that will trek in,” May said. “But it’s all welcome here and that’s what’s great about this place.”

And as to the recession plaguing many American businesses, May said he would be devastated if The Globe were to be affected. But thankfully, he said, that’s not the case since he and other regulars drop in when they are expected to.

“Yeah, this place is probably recession proof,” May said. “Even if they were to be losing money or not making as much as they could, it would have to stay open. Where would I drink on Friday nights after a long week of work?”


Dexter Fisher has an unusual wish for his 50th birthday.

 

            Instead of presents, he wants his friends and family to help improve education in Athens-Clarke County.

 

            Fisher’s wife, Vivian, passed away last August after being diagnosed with an infection in the lining of her heart.  Dexter set up a fund in honor of his mother, Mamie Fisher, and his wife, with the proceeds benefiting the newly-formed Athens Area Community Foundation (AACF).

 

            The foundation opened its first grant application period in January and distributed the grants earlier this month.  While the Fisher family fund will be a donor-advised fund and have a say in where they want the grants to go, the first round of grants comes from unrestricted discretionary funds that the AACF already raised.

 

            The AACF currently is an affiliate of the North Georgia Community Foundation, but will become a separate entity when it receives its 501(c)(3) status.  When that happens, it will be the fourteenth community foundation in the state, according to the Foundation Center and Nonprofit Studies Program at the School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. 

 

            The first community foundation was established in Cleveland in the early 20th century, according to the Council on Foundations.  Many community foundations were created as part of a trend that developed across the nation in the 1990s.

 

            The goal of the organizations is to harvest funding and provide grants for local nonprofits, said Delene Porter, president and CEO of the AACF.

 

            For families who have discretionary assets—large sums of money from things like an estate sale or family business being sold—the foundation “is a vehicle that makes it easy for them to leave [money] to the community,” said Porter.

 

            The creation of a community foundation was one of the 11 OneAthens initiatives designed to identify and relieve underlying causes of poverty in Athens.

 

            “The first ten initiatives are very directly addressing poverty,” Porter said.  “The eleventh, to create a community foundation, is the least understood, but I think in the long term, it’s the one that’s going to make the most impact.”

 

            If the other Georgia community foundations give any indicator, nonprofit organizations in Athens will reap great benefits from the AACF.  According to the Foundation Center, most foundations in Georgia distribute between $2 million and $7 million in annual grants.

            And while Porter says some may be wary that the community foundation will compete with nonprofits instead of helping them, organizations in Athens already have responded enthusiastically.

 

            The AACF received applications from 43 nonprofits in its first round of grant distributions. They totaled more than $180,000.  Because the foundation is just starting up, it had a limited fund of $25,000 to distribute.  Eleven grants were awarded, ranging from $915 to $3,000.

 

            “For our first grant cycle, this level of demand is excellent,” said AACF chairman Steve Jones in a press release.  “We wish we had more money to award, but we believe this demonstrates very strongly the need, and the opportunity, for a community foundation.”


New Parking Deck OK for residents

“Exciting” typically does not describe county sales tax, but when it funds new parking for weekend shenanigans, even locals get a little giddy.

A county-approved parking deck on West Clayton Street was assigned a developer this month during the April 7 meeting between Mayor Heidi Davison and the Board of Commissioners, according to open records posted on the Athens-Clarke County Web site.

To local resident Sarah Wagner, additional parking means increased opportunity for late night fun.

“I am thrilled about the new parking deck downtown,” Wagner said.  “I am sick of driving around for 30 minutes to find a parking spot on a busy Friday night.”

The mixed-use deck will provide 575 additional spaces downtown and 8,000 square feet of commercial space.  Who will utilize the commercial space is not immediately apparent.

For UGA student Brian Miller, utilizing the deck for classes is an interesting option, but a hollow solution due to the cost.  The deck will not be free, and parking revenue will pay the operating costs and construction debt lent by the Athens Downtown Development Authority for the project.

While campus parking is typically more expensive than parking tickets downtown, other opportunities exist closer to campus for less money.

“The parking is no immediate benefit for me, because I can pay $100 and park on campus,” Miller said.  “If it were free then I would definitely park there instead of the shell station.”

The deck is funded in part by the county’s SPLOST fund, as well as $5.1 million of ACC backed debt by the ADDA.  The SPLOST allocation is $6.7 million, and the total project cost is estimated at approximately $12.1 million, according to public documents.

The SPLOST program, or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, is a 1 percent tax added to all sales in Athens-Clarke County.  The penny increase currently funds 33 public projects with guaranteed funding for a five year “term”.

Continuation of the tax is voted on by the public following each term, and new projects are broken into three categories: public safety, basic facilities / infrastructure and quality of life.  Projects are chosen by the Board of Commissioners with input from the community.

A project’s life cycle is planned, and each phase is discussed and voted upon by the board and mayor.

The tax offsets the costs of public projects typically paid for by property tax payers.  According to the Athens-Clarke County Web site on SPLOST, as of 1998, 18,000 workers commute to the county each day.  Utilizing the revenue gained by non-residents, the county can attempt projects at a decreased cost to the community.

Other projects slated for the 2004-2009 SPLOST term include relocation of the solid waste facility on College Station Avenue to Hancock Industrial Road, and sidewalk and pavement improvement programs.

“It’s a penny on every dollar, which is not a lot to pay,” Miller said.  “If it’s going to provide extra parking and erase the terrible smell from a prominent part of town, then I think it’s worth 1 percent.”

Miller felt additional initiatives were equally important even if they did not directly affect his daily activities.  Improved walkways downtown will help those in need of surer footing.

“People who it is being improved for will notice it,” Miller said.

As for Wagner, the Athens First Bank teller is genuinely excited for decreasing her downtown commute time.

“I don’t mind paying a little bit if it means that the downtown parking situation will be a much smaller headache,” Wagner said.


Moratorium buys time to make preservation decision

Milledge Avenue is a street stuck in time.

 

In many areas of the dynamic, ever-growing city of Athens, the knocking of hammers and humming of drills are so constant that they seem as natural as the chirping of birds.

 

Not on Milledge Avenue. Residents on this street will not hear knocking or humming at least until this time next year.

 

The Athens-Clarke mayor and commission adopted a temporary moratorium at their April 7 meeting to disallow any construction on Milledge Avenue until April 2010, or until the resolution is repealed.

 

The resolution bars the acceptance of all applications for demolition, relocation and construction of all buildings with frontage on Milledge Avenue.

 

The Resolution refers to the selected section of Milledge Avenue as the “Subject Area.” It comprises the area of Milledge Avenue between its intersections with Broad Street and Lumpkin Street.

 

The moratorium is in its fourth phase of extensions. It was first adopted on Oct. 2, 2007, and then extended in April and October of 2008.

 

The moratorium is buying time for the county commission to make a decision on whether Milledge Avenue should be designated a local historic district. The designation is something that the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation and Preservation Commission have been pushing for.

 

The Milledge Avenue Committee was formed in May 2007 by Mayor Heidi Davison and chaired by Commissioner Kathy Hoard. It comprised property owners, neighborhood representatives, Greek organizations and University of Georgia representatives. The Committee worked with the Planning Department to identify objectives for the period of the moratorium.

 

Sidebar:

The Milledge Avenue Committee found three issues to be addressed regarding the Subject Area:

  1. The protection of cultural heritage
  2. The need for unique development regulations that recognize heritage while encouraging appropriate redevelopment opportunities for non-historic properties
  3. The protection of the neighborhood character of all immediately adjacent single family areas

 

The first objective, to protect Milledge Avenue’s cultural heritage, is an ongoing effort by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation and Preservation Commission.

 

Milledge Avenue is not one of Athens’ nine local historic districts. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but this honorary designation does not protect the historic properties from demolition or construction that would damage their historic integrity.

 

Locally designated historic districts are subject to ordinances that govern what can and cannot be done structurally to a building within the area. The Preservation Commission must issue a Certificate of Appropriateness before changes can be made.

 

The moratorium on demolition and construction is one step toward designating Milledge Avenue a local historic district. The movement is going smoothly, ACHF Executive Director Amy Kissane said.

 

The second objective is to regulate development in a way that recognizes historic heritage while accommodating non-historic properties.

 

This effort is a continuation of a movement that began in the late 1950s.

 

The Society for the Preservation of Old Athens, founded in 1959, fought ardently against commercial interests who wanted to purchase and demolish historic homes along the avenue.

 

Protective zoning provisions for the area between Broad Street and Lumpkin Street made the area office-institutional, rather than business.

 

“As a direct result,” reads the Carl Vinson Institute of Government website, “Milledge Avenue did not succumb to the rampant commercialization [that] consumed Prince Avenue.”

 

Properties that are not considered historic are those younger than 50 years. These buildings would be free to make changes without Preservation Commission approval, but would still be subject to zoning regulations.

 

The third objective is to maintain the integrity of residences. Though the resolution specifically points out single-family homes, Milledge Avenue is distinctive because of its abundance of fraternity and sorority houses.

 

These non-traditional dormitory-style residences, some historic and some modern, cover a substantial portion of the avenue.

 

The 1908 Gamma Phi Beta sorority house, located at 397 S. Milledge Ave., is involved in a discussion that some feel very passionate about.

 

“The Gamma Phi Betas were proposing an addition to the front which would just obliterate what’s there,” Kissane said.

 

The moratorium prevents them from doing that in the short-term, and the possible outcome of the whole effort could make such changes impossible in the future as well.

 

Gamma Phi Beta was not subject to preservation guidelines, but the pressure put on them from the commission and ACHF led them to a hollow solution.

 

Rather than extend the front of the house toward the street to build much-needed additional living space, they decided to add meeting space to the back of the house, which could compromise parking.

 

Though most people think Athens to be a preservation-minded community, the politics of preservation leave many community members unsatisfied.

 

Almost every proposal that comes before the Preservation Commission is a win-lose situation. One party, usually the preservationists, come away happy while the business or homeowners either follow the commission’s recommendations or forego construction altogether.

 

For this reason, some residents and business-owners are unhappy about the possible outcome of the decisions being made during the term of the moratorium.

 

“If I can prevent my apartments from getting in there, I will,” Matthew Hicks said in regards to the proposed local historic district. Hicks is the owner of The Columns apartments on Milledge Avenue.

 

“My fear would be that I would have to pay a $50 or $100 permit fee when I want to change out a window, and I don’t want to have to get into that,” he said.


In an era of doom and gloom, some good news for downtown Athens

In this economy, any news not about layoffs, bailouts, or stocks crashing is good news. Two upcoming downtown Athens events are certainly good news for the Athens economy.

 

These bright spots include the opening of Square One Fish Company, a new downtown Athens restaurant, and the upcoming Athens Annual Twilight festival and bicycle race.

 

Square One Fish Co. is located at the intersection of North Thomas Street and East Hancock Avenue, right next to the Classic Center. As the name indicates, the restaurant will specialize in seafood. Square One is slated to open May 24th, just in time for Memorial Day.

 

Getting the restaurant off the ground has not been easy in this economy, however.

 

“The name actually refers to how difficult it has been to get this place ready to open,” said Joe Cascio, owner of Square One Fish Co. “We kept finding ourselves back at square one.”

 

Square One will offer Caribbean and Floridian seafood with a Southern flair, Cascio said. The menu will feature about 10 different types of fish, as well as oysters, clams, and mussels.

 

Worried about the normally outrageous prices at a seafood restaurant? Don’t be. Lunch fare will cost around $10 and dinner fare will be in the range of $20, Cascio said.

 

“With the way the economy is right now, we wanted to have moderate prices,” Cascio said. “Good luck getting people to come in for $30 a plate right now. We also wanted to have decent prices so students could afford to come here.”

 

The restaurant will be a welcome boost to the downtown Athens area. The restaurant should generate about 20 new jobs, according to General Manager Shannon Pritchett.

 

“We’ve pretty much got our staff set in place,” Pritchett said. “We’ve been able to hire some experienced servers, some of them college students, and some experienced chefs who had been laid off recently by local restaurants.”

 

Rachel Bachmann is a senior at the University and is one of these students. Bachmann was laid off in March by Mirko’s Pasta on Gaines School Road but will be working as a waitress for Square One come late May.

 

“It was just really lucky timing for me,” Bachmann said. “I live on North Avenue, so one day when I was driving home I saw that Square One was supposed to open up in a couple months. The next week Mirko’s had to lay some people off, so I applied at Square One, and I got the job.”

 

The theme of laid off workers being hired is music to Kathryn Lookofsky’s ears. Lookofsky is the director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority.

 

“While some restaurants and businesses downtown have laid off some of their workers, the downtown economy is still doing OK,” Lookofsky said. “But the opening of Square One does come at a good time, both because it will create some needed new jobs and because it will serve as another reason for people to visit downtown.”

 

Lookofsky points to this weekend’s 30th Annual Athens Twilight bike race and festival as another welcome boost for the local economy. Twilight’s main event is a bike race, the Twilight Criterium, where 150 cyclists compete in a 60-kilometer race around downtown Athens. Twilight also involves a jazz festival, a 5K run, and entertainment for both children and adults.

 

Twilight is the highest income-producing weekend of the year for downtown retailers, Lookofsky said.

 

“Although turnout will probably be a little down this year, we’re still pretty optimistic,” Lookofsky said. “For alumni, it’s kind of a spring version of a football weekend. They get to come back to Athens and have a weekend of fun downtown, with the cycling, music, and everything else that goes on.”

 

Certain roped off areas in the street where open container laws will not be enforced normally don’t hurt either, she added. Flanagan’s Bar & Grill plans to operate a beer garden in Clayton Street for the festival.

 

About 30,000 are expected to attend Twilight this year, Lookofsky said.

 

While the downtown Athens economy may not be thriving in this recession, the opening of a new seafood restaurant and the upcoming Athens Annual Twilight are some positive signs. One might call them “glimmers of hope.”


Pet Adoptions, Animal Care Decreasing Since Recession

It is evident that people are saving and giving up certain things: eating out, going to the movies and even grooming essentials. But shocking things people in Athens-Clarke County are giving up are their pets.

“We have seen some changes because of the economy. We have personally had a few dogs returned from adoptions because the owners cannot afford them anymore,” said Bly Blain, president of the Athens Canine Rescue. “More dogs are being turned into animal control because the owner has lost their job, or having to move.”

And as people give up their animals, adoptions are also decreasing. “We have definitely seen a drop in our adoption numbers this year,” Blain said. “I think we have had somewhere around 40% less adoptions so far this year – which we think has something to do with the economy.”

The Athens Canine Rescue, which is a rescue group that uses other foster homes, rescues animals from local shelters before they are euthanized.

Patrick Rives, Superintendent of Athens-Clarke County Animal Control, works with the ACR weekly.

“When we get an animal, we wait for a week to see if an owner will claim it or someone applies for adoption. Then after ten days, we have no option but to euthanize the animal,” Rives said. “It usually doesn’t get that far, but unfortunately sometimes we have to do it.”

Rives, who deals with animals on a daily basis, compared data from the last three years of the numbers of adopted pets and pets surrendered. Looking at January through March from 07 to 09, the numbers have been pretty consistent, Rives said.

Despite Rives’ positive outlook, the ACR is not the only adoption agency having issues. Jessica Watkins, kennel manager of Pawtropolis, said their kennel is nearly full as well.

As if they have enough work to do, their voicemail says they are full.

“As far as taking in pets to keep them off the streets…that is what we do on a day to day basis…but we have had to cut back on the number of dogs we can save,” Watkins said. “One has to be adopted before we can put another on in that foster home…and since our adoption have slowed down, we haven’t been able to save as many as we would like.”

And while kennels are filling up, vet clinics are doing the opposite. “We have definitely had less animals coming in recently,” said Dr. James Brousse, the vet at Classic City Cat Clinic. “We are not too low on our numbers, but have seen a decrease.”

Although people do have good intentions and try to help when they see a hurt animal, they need to be careful and just call us, Rives said.

“A group of people were helping a hurt dog…which turned out to be a coyote and could have had rabies,” Rives said. “So, as much as we appreciate the help, it’s safer to leave the animal alone.”

 In an article about helping strays, the Human Society agrees with safety first.

Besides the good citizen, many groups have started promoting themselves to help animals in need.

The Georgia Equine Rescue takes in horses that need a home, medical attention or a temporary stay, said Kelly Lockerman, the education director.

For other helping homes, kennels and safety tips, visit athenshumanesociety.org.


Twilight Invades Downtown Athens

            As if Athens residents and college students needed a reason to flood the downtown area on the weekend, Twilight will invade the Classic City Friday, providing justification, yet again, for an evening out on the town.

           

This year’s event marks the 30th annual Twilight, a display which has evolved into more than a bike race.

           

“We look forward to this every year,” said Blair Barrett, a senior majoring in Finance. “I would put it up there with St. Patrick’s Day, Marti Gras or anything else that comes to mind that gets people out and about.”

           

Twilight has evolved into a festival of fun, capitalizing on the interest drawn by the cycling by including a jazz festival, film festival and a myriad of other attractions.

           

“There is something for everybody to enjoy,” said Tyler Estep, a sports writer for the Red & Black. “I respect cycling, but I’m not a big fan. But I still go out every year to enjoy the music and all the hoopla.”

           

The jazz festival, the 2nd annual, will bring top national musicians together with local artists.

           

“Currently, there is no other comparable jazz festival in the state of Georgia that combines the educational and community elements and is open to both vocal and instrumental groups,” said Mitos Andaya, Festival Co-Director and Associate Director of Choral Activities at the School of Music. “The University of Georgia has the opportunity to fill this niche.”

 

The festival also serves as an educational tool, as clinics and workshops will be provided for middle and high school students.

 

“The Jazz Festival is a non-profit effort, and it’s meant to bring in some really good players for students to learn from,” said Ryan Lanford, who is involved with the Terry College of Business’ Music Business Program. “There will be as much musical knowledge at this festival as you could find anywhere.”

           

The main event of the weekend is still the men’s and women’s cycling criterium, featuring cyclists from all over the world. The men will compete in an 80-km race around downtown Athens, with the start finish line located on Clayton Street at College Avenue.

           

The course runs clockwise on Clayton, Lumpkin, Washington and Thomas with over $120,000 in prize money awaiting the top riders at the finish line.

        

“I know when I was racing all of the students were buck-wild,” said 1984 individual sprint Olympic silver medalist Nelson Vails to the Red & Black. “It was wall-to-wall people and such an awesome atmosphere and that excitement and tradition is something that will never die. I don’t know what the University students would do without Twilight.”

        

The event also boasts Cine’s film festival, a BMX trick contest and also a race known as the Gambler.

 

People should come see the Twilight BMX contest because we do things that most people never even think can be done on a bike,” said local professional BMX flatlander Jody Temple to the Red & Black. “Flatland is a highly creative and individual sport that has so many different styles and ways of riding.”

 

The Gambler is a 50 km race that bypasses Beaver Dam Farm, which was built by country music singer Kenny Roger, establishing an easy name for the ride.

 

“The Gambler is a fun participation ride that has a nice mix of riders from people who are really fast to people who haven’t ridden a bike in 15 years,” said Gambler organizer Micah Morlock. “You get a playing card at the beginning and you can go through as fast as you can or as slow as you want, but you need to have a full hand at the end in order to win.”

 

The influx of people in the downtown area has bars anticipating record crowds, with each establishment gearing up for what is projected to be a profitable night.

 

“Twilight is the closest thing our bar gets to a football weekend in the spring semester,” said Jonathan Messer, a bartender at 8e’s bar. “We ordered an extra 170 cases of Bud Light for the weekend. That’s just one brand, which I know we ordered more of each, so we are expecting to make tons of cash.”

 

Whether it’s the bike ride, or the other attractions, many students have made big plans revolving around the spectacle.

 

“We’re going to have a cookout to pre-game for everything Friday afternoon,” Barrett said. “And once it gets dark we’ll head downtown to catch the riders. It’s just a really fun time.”