Storage units in Athens grow in popularity

It is a murky Monday morning in January outside of Crazy Ray’s Self Storage. The location sits on the outskirts of Athens near the Madison County border, and looks to be in the middle of nowhere.

Regardless, a crowd of approximately 50 file their way into the offices and another door outside to the gated lots inside the business’s black, iron gates. Although the number of units that were planned to go to auction is cut in half, the crowd remains.

“When the process started, we had 24 units,” said owner Ray Teaster. “By the time we got to the auction time, and we give them right up to 10:00 to come in and pay. We had 11 units after all of that.”

After Teaster, also taking the role of auctioneer gives a rundown of the rules, the crowd makes its way to the first unit up for bidding.

Welcome to the Athens version of “Storage Wars,” where the bidding is done on Southern time, the units go cheaper and bystanders watch to see who gets the unit of the day.

But what is quickly learned is that there is more to an auction than the free and fun entertainment. The work behind the scenes is immense.

Running the Business

Crazy Ray’s Self Storage came to existence in 2004. Under the ownership of Teaster, the business has clawed its way to success.

“It’s kind of a hard business to get started, because you have a lot of cash outlay in the beginning, and you start out with no tenants,” Teaster said. “It is scary in the early going, but you do customers right, you get a clean facility and you do things right.”

And Teaster’s work shows he does things right. Not only do residential tenants in the process of moving use his company’s storage space, but other businesses including Pepperidge Farm rent as well.

“It’s a pretty wide variety,” he said. “We get a lot of people who may be moving and need storage for a few months. And we got the commercial people.”

Of course as a business that measures its success by the number of units in use, the business is always looking for more tenants.

From foreclosure to auction

Georgia has clear laws when it comes to storage units that are foreclosed.

Enacted in 1982, the “Georgia Self-Service Facility Act” gives the guidelines required in the state.

According to the law, after the tenant has been in default for 30 days, the owner can start the process to enforce his lein – or the right to keep a property until debt is paid.

Teaster usually gives more time, and gives the customer all chances possible to avoid the auction.

“We go as long as we can, and usually it is like 90 days before we even bring one up for auction,” he said. “At that point we send the customer a cut-lock notice informing the customer that we’re going to cut their locks and see what’s in the unit.”

After the owner contacts the renter numerous times heeding warning of losing the unit, the owner then has to run an announcement in the newspaper stating that the units will be auctioned off. In Athens, the notice has to run in the Banner-Herald once a week for two consecutive weeks.

According to the Georgia Self-Service Facility Act, “The advertisement shall include: a brief and general description of the personal property, reasonably adequate to permit its identification; the address of the self-service storage facility, and the number, if any, of the space where the personal property is located, and the name of the Occupant; and the time, place, and manner of the public sale.”

These laws add to the costs acquired by Crazy Ray’s.

“We probably spent $150 or so in certified mail and newspaper advertising,” Teaster said.

While there is public unfamiliarity with the law, the Better Business Bureau has mentioned ways to avoid potential problems.

“While most facilities are operated by reputable businesses, Better Business Bureaus field complaints from time to time regarding theft or property damage and rental disputes,” the release said. “Consumers are advised to shop carefully before signing on the dotted line.”

It’s good to know the cost, payment and climate of a unit before buying a locker. The BBB also recommends that people check with them for a report on the facility before signing a contract.

Increased Popularity

The numbers of people that participate in unit auctions have increased in recent years.

People credit that to TV shows such as A&E’s “Storage Wars” and the spinoff shows based in Texas and New York.

Bidders on the units, have a strong disdain for the show, believing that with the influx of people the prices of units go up.

“The TV programs have put so much out there about how many deals and things you can find. More people are coming that affects me that they have raised the prices more,” said Vic Peel, owner of Vic’s Vintage in Athens. “They come out looking for bargains, get caught up in the bidding process and end up paying way more than the unit is worth.”

While Peel is based in Athens, his bidding takes him nationally and globally. At about six auctions a year, he goes from Florence, S.C. to New Orleans, as well as Spain and Japan to find vintage items.

“I mainly [look for] chairs, if I go to a storage unit and see chairs, vintage chairs,” he said. “[From the] late ‘40s to early ‘80s, that is my main thing.”

Teaster says he doesn’t see an increase in the prices of his units due to the show. The storage units still bid in the low hundreds.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know if it’s had that much of an impact on us, other than the number of people that show up,” he said. “We probably double in the number of people who show up, but the same people who bought are the same ones buying.”

While Crazy Ray’s has not changed its procedures following the show, other storage auctions have.  Some auctions have resorted to charging admission fees or limiting the number of people who can attend.

Not In it to Bid it

The self-service facility business is not the auction business.

For storage units, the point of an auction is to make back the money that the tenant did not pay in rent. In other words, the parts that we don’t see on television are the real reasons the units are up for bid in the first place.

“We prefer our rent, we do not want to auction people’s stuff,” Teaster said. “But we have to have vacant units. We can’t let them be filled and not be collecting any revenue. That would sink the business pretty quick.”

Rarely do the auctions make up the money lost by the default payments. In the rare occasions it does, Teaster gives the difference back to the unit’s original tenant.

While the auctions are fun to watch despite being nothing like “Storage Wars,” the potential of profit is solely on the bidder. Owners, such as Teaster, still ultimately lose out.

“It’s not our goal to have auctions, we don’t want them,” he said. “We want to collect our rent money. We rarely collect what’s owed on the units. We’re a lot better off if our units are paid for, not auctions. It’s not profitable for us.”


Audio interview with Ray Teaster:

Audio recording software >>

This Year’s Flu Season Came Early and Hit Hard

It starts with chills pulsating throughout the body, accompanied by a hot forehead, sore throat and running nose. The body feels aches comparable to those incurred from being tackled by the University of Georgia’s entire defensive line. The only hope left is to sink into bed with no intention of returning to reality, but sleep is forbidden by a steady stream of coughing fits and one is left utterly miserable.

It is flu season and the symptoms above are those most commonly related to influenza virus.

This year’s flu season came early and swept the nation, claiming lives and sending a large number of people to the hospital. In Georgia similar levels of elevated flu activity occurred throughout the state, particularly local influenza activity.

According to a statement from the Georgia Department of Health, “Influenza (flu) is hitting Georgia harder this season than at any time in the past 10 years.”

Patrick O’Neal, M.D., the director of the Division of Health Protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health said, in a press release in January, that flu activity in Georgia reached “epidemic levels” this flu season.

So far this flu season, Georgia reported four flu-related deaths. Including one flu-related death in the Athens area, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The Center of Disease Control, CDC, reported a total of 59 flu-related pediatric deaths this flu season, as of February 2nd, nearly double the total flu-related pediatric deaths that occurred during the 2011-2012 flu season. The total number flu-related deaths among adults were not reported.

February brought lower levels of flu than early flu season, but the CDC reports that influenza activity remains elevated across the country.

Georgia’s peak weeks of flu activity matched the national trend, with the highest levels of flu reported the last two weeks of December through the first two weeks of January.

“It’s likely that the worst of the current flu season is over,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told the Associated Press. The Georgia Department of Public Health still warns that, “given the early and intense start of this flu season, it could last longer this year,” according to a statement on their website.

Flu season last from late November through March so there remains time for a second surge of flu this season.

Lynn Beckmann, Northeast Georgia’s Public Health Department’s infectious disease coordinator said in an email, “I can tell you, anecdotally, that I was getting reports rather early this year, even as early as mid Sept., that [flu] cases were being seen in the community.”

The Athens Banner Herald reported early in January that local hospitals, St. Mary’s Healthcare and Athens Regional Medical center, “have collectively tested more than 4,000 people for flu and nearly 20 percent of those tests came back as positive.”

The best defense against the flu is to get a yearly vaccine, according to the CDC.

Emily Cox a third year student at the University of Georgia who lives in Athens described her experience receiving the flu shoot,“I got my shot at Kroger, I just went in to the pharmacy area and asked if I could get a flu shot and they were like sure.” Cox said she was encouraged by her mom to get a flu shot but she thinks it is very important to get a flu shot every year. Cox got her flu shot in November of 2012 and said she has not gotten the flu this flu season.

“The flu vaccine is safe and effective, although probably not as effective as we once thought in the elderly due to a decreased immune response,” said Mark Ebell, an associate professor of Epidemiology at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health.

Athens physicians’ offices, the Public Health Department and local drug stores administer vaccines locally.

Jim Stowe, a local pharmacist, works at Horton’s Drugstore in the HealthMart Pharmacy located in downtown Athens. When asked about flu vaccinations administered by Horton’s Drugstore this year, Stowe said he saw trends similar to statewide reports.

“Once we had that first little surge, particularly out west of [flu]cases showing up, it became where everyone was like I have been putting it [getting a flu shot] off long enough,” said Stowe about the Athens’ residents’ response to national reports of elevated levels of flu this season.

Horton’s Pharmacy worked with local banks and parishes, to put on health days that provided vaccines to a large number of people at one time.

“It’s been kind of one of those things where you just try to find out where the need is and just get folks together so you can try to do it all at one time,” said Stowe about vaccinations in the Athens community. “You definitely also have people walk in the door who say they want to get their shot.”

In regards to getting vaccinated Stowe advised, “It’s a personal decision for everybody.” A person’s decision to get vaccinated depends on, “contact and your personal history, some people are more susceptible due to preexisting conditions, to age limitations, to exposure to these particular strains in previous years that don’t have any immunity to that one.”

Horton’s Drugstore is still administering this year’s flu vaccine and has a prescribing physician on staff that administers the flu shots.

Each flu season is different and the severity of the virus is unpredictable. The CDC estimates that anywhere from 5% to 20% of U.S. residents contract the flu each year.

The flu vaccine is the most effective method in preventing the flu, and those who have not received this year’s flu vaccine should take extra precautions to protect themselves and prevent the spread of flu.

Suggested methods of prevention include, hand-washing, avoiding touching the face and mouth, covering one’s mouth to sneeze or cough and avoiding those infected with the flu.

Local Athens Library Dreams Big

A shy boy in the first grade scans the shelves at Pinewoods Library before he picks up a weathered copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Every day after school, David joins the majority of his neighborhood peers and files into the double wide trailer on lot G-10 that acts as the community’s library.

As the main branch in the Athens Regional Library System, Athens-Clarke County Library opens its newly renovated interior, Pinewoods still operates within its double wide trailer.

Although Pinewoods library is one of the smallest of the 11 branches in Athens Regional Library system, it is constantly busy. Often the library has to turn away children because of lack of space. The library is a resource center for Pinewoods residents, Hispanic immigrants and training center for University of Georgia students. The residing branch manager, Aida Quiñones, dreams of operating Pinewoods with more room.

“We want to offer more programs,” said Quiñones. “Because of the space, we have to say no to so many things and it’s really painful to say no.” A larger Pinewoods Library could offer more children like David exposure to mentoring and a positive learning environment.

From Monday to Thursday from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., there is a constant flow of children in and out of the library for the after school tutoring program.

“There are always kids here all the way until we close around 8 p.m.,” said Quiñones. Mentors for the after-school program are typically student volunteers from the University of Georgia. The College of Education sends students who are learning to teach Spanish or ESOL.

Sam Elliot, a senior Spanish major at UGA, feels like she can see the impact mentoring makes, but also identifies the problem of space.

“One of the girls I mentor frequents Pinewoods more than she does her seventh grade classroom,” said Elliot. “There are always kids here, but not enough room to accommodate them all.”

Children are not the only target audience Pinewoods offers programs to. Pinewoods Library attracts Hispanic immigrants within the estate of 2,000 residents and the 18,000 in the greater Athens area. It is one of the only libraries partnered with the Mexican Consulate offering, Plaza Comunitaria, or education courses for primary and secondary levels.

“In this neighborhood we have a lot of residents who never went past 3rd grade. And with this program, they have the opportunity to finish their education,” said Quiñones.

The funds for Pinewoods start with grants. Quiñones said Pinewoods just renewed the American Dream grant through Dollar General which pays for necessary resources to run their programs. Quiñones clarified that the grants only pay for teacher materials, or other resources for the classes.

“Salaries and maintenance do not come from grants, that comes from the Athens Regional, the grants are more for programs that we offer,” she said.

Quiñones says the Pinewoods branch, nestled between other mobile homes, is small.  She does not know if the state and local government consider the number of immigrants Pinewoods attracts from outside the Pinewoods estate in the budget drafting. The library already actively serves the people in the immediate Pinewoods community and is drawing more people, especially with programs like Plaza Comuntaria.

“Many come from Jefferson, Thalmann, Stone Mountain, many places,” said Quiñones. “When they originally constructed the budget for Pinewoods I don’t know if they took that into consideration. I think they only planned on the Pinewoods residents.”

Rhiannon Eades, the Public Relations Specialist for ARLS, explained the funding by comparing the library system to the health department.

“It’s kind of like a secondary agency, the county has input in the budget draft as well as the state,” said Eades.

For the sparkling new children’s area and other completed renovations, the Athens-Clarke County Library received two grants, funds from 2004 SPLOST totaling $8 million and $2 million from the state. Information regarding how other branches can expand settles with the state and local government. The plans for renovations on the main branch in ARLS were initiated several years ago. As the Athens-Clarke County Library revealed their expansion in February 2013, Pinewoods continued to provide a learning atmosphere for Hispanic adults, children, and UGA students from a space smaller than an average school classroom.

Pinewoods Library uses what it has to provide skills and qualifications to the Hispanic population. It offers English as a second language and computer classes. It recently started Spanish classes for Americans. Pinewoods wants to expand, but is inhibited by space. Quiñones explains many parents want more books in Spanish about citizenship education. The citizenship test is in English, which many of the adults in Pinewoods do not know. “All we have right now are these cards,” she holds up a blue card the size of a credit card with President Obama’s face beaming from the center.

“We want to do more education classes, but once again space is an issue,” said Quiñones.

Pinewoods’ biggest dream is expansion and the resulting ability to offer more classes, according to Quiñones. As Quiñones is listing the goals for Pinewoods, a mother is tugging a crying little boy out the front door.

“See they don’t want to leave,” said Quiñones with a laugh.

Overpopulation Risks with More Housing Developments Downtown

Citizens line up at a microphone close to the Board of Directors panel to give their input on developmental issues, such as low-income housing and the Classic Center expansion, at the Athens Downtown Development Authority board meeting held last Tuesday, February 13. One citizen asks, “How will the Classic Center expansion and other developments affect the downtown area positively?”

Downtown areas in college towns nationwide are becoming ideal places to build housing developments and other venues for leisurely purposes. In the downtown Athens area, new housing and hotel developments are being built as close to downtown as possible to accommodate students and visitors, but could lead to major increases in traffic and overpopulation in an already crowded city.

According to the news site, Globest, cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta are at their prime for investing and building student housing and other developments in their downtown areas. Athens is quickly becoming familiar with these kinds of investments as well. According to OnlineAthens, a news outlet, $140 million is being instilled in new developments and expansions for the downtown area.

The Standard at Athens and the Hyatt Hotel developments both cost almost $70 million together and play tremendous monetary roles in this investment for downtown. There is also an unnamed four-building-project between Hull and Lumpkin streets and Clayton and Broad streets, not to mention, the Classic center expansion, unveiled February 17th, played a $24 million part in this injection. Counted separately from this $140 million investment is a nine-acre Armstrong & Dobbs project, expected to cost $80 million. It will include retail space, space for an anchor tenant and about 250 housing units with about 600 bedrooms.

Focusing on the various housing developments in the downtown area, The Standard at Athens, a new $30 million dollar housing project opening in fall 2014, will be a six-story development with a rooftop infinity pool, sauna, cyber café, fitness center, indoor golf simulator, a courtyard and other amenities. There will be an eight story parking deck attached to this project, which will make it one of the larger buildings in the downtown area.

The Hyatt Hotel, said to open in late winter/early spring 2014, will have 188 rooms, 10 condos, as well as a restaurant. There is also the Armstrong & Dobbs tract will have 250 housing units within its development stretching from East Broad Street to Wilkerson Street.

Reise Reports, a real estate data and analysis company, has reported that the Athens area is ranked No. 150 in rent growth at 0.4 percent, which could affect how other apartments outside the interior of the city will be able to compete as more housing opens up downtown.

Some Athens delegates and university students believe that this new development will be an innovative opening into the future for downtown Athens.

Sophomore Elizabeth Turchan, an International Business major at the University of Georgia is looking to live off campus next year and is excited about new housing in the downtown area.

“Next year, I really want to live off campus and am ideally looking for housing that is a hop, skip and jump away from campus. I think it’s awesome that they’re building student housing downtown because I can walk to campus and wouldn’t be too far from the downtown night life,” said Turchan. “I expect that downtown Athens, just like any downtown area of any city already has a lot of traffic so I don’t see that as a real problem.”

Other officials and students believe that too much housing downtown risks dangers to the community.

“Building developments too close together is a hazard. A fire or anything could happen. Developers don’t really care nowadays,” said Vernon Payne, an Athens-Clarke County commissioner.

Junior Jacquelynne Rodriguez, double majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders and Spanish, is strongly against large developments in the downtown area, as well.

“A lot of contractors tend to come from out of state and the money is essentially leaving Athens, especially when you have larger developments. We have to think about the economic welfare of Athens,” Rodriguez said. “With ‘mom and pop’ shops, people tend to care more about Athens, but when you have large scale contractors who are building larger developments, they’re more concerned with making money than with the well being of Athens as a town. Downtown Athens isn’t made for large amounts of traffic either with mostly two-lane roads and middle parking on most streets.”

The people are what contribute to Athens’ culture and character, but others retort that too many developments and housing could lead to overpopulation and danger in that area.

“I expect that downtown Athens, just like any downtown area of any city already has a lot of traffic so I don’t see that as a real problem,” Turchan said.

“If they keep developing downtown, there is going to be a massive amount of people in a small, centralized location at all times, which is cause for concern,” Rodriguez declared.

Athens Mentoring Benefits Graduation Rates

“I remember the first time I got a text message and I was like OK what is this and how do I respond” Debra Little said.

That day Briana, Little’s mentee, taught her how to send text messages on a BlackBerry.

“One day we were sitting in the conference room, I don’t remember how it came about,” Little recalled. “Oh! We were talking about how young people text without looking at their phones.”

Briana revealed the secret to texting without looking that Little would never forget.

“I was like I have to look at my keys and she was showing me that there was a little key in the very middle that had a little incision go up. She told me ‘you can feel that middle key and it kind of lets you know where to go from there,” Little said. “I got pretty fast with texting on the BlackBerry.”

Graduation rates in Athens-Clarke County are among the lowest in the state of Georgia but mentoring has the potential to turn these statistics around. The Clarke County mentoring program emerged as the best alternative to improving graduation rates in Athens but faces obstacles that keeps mentoring from reaching its full potential.

The Clarke County mentoring program started unlike other programs based outside of school settings. This program operates within local public schools to combat the low graduation rates in Athens. The program started in 1991 as a joint effort of the Chamber of Commerce and Athens-Clarke County School District.

“I think it all gets back to the fact that our county has such a low graduation rate,” Paula Shilton, Director of the Clarke County Mentor Program, said. “The mentor program was one of many initiatives that have been done in our community to try to raise graduation rates.”


Mentoring proved its effectiveness all over the country. Atlantic City, New Jersey school officials paired lower performing students with mentors at a young age that finished high school in the top 10 percent of their class. The students did not need tutoring just someone to listen to them and help guide them along the way.

Graduation rates in America hit an all time high in 2010 at 78.2 percent. Rates this high have not been seen since 1975 at 74.9 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal via the National Center of Educational Statistics. Georgia’s 67 percent graduation rate for the 2010-2011 school year ranked low at the 48th highest state according to an Online Athens report.

Since 2006, the percentage of students who passed the Georgia High School Graduation Test rose from 64.4 percent to 70.1 percent.

Two indicators studies suggest lead to lower graduation rates are high levels of absenteeism and behavioral problems. Schools that participate in mentoring programs reported that students anticipate a visit from their mentor and miss less school. Behavioral problems differ once they have someone to listen to them.

In Athens, the number of students who pass the GHSGT every year serve as a direct reflection of the need for mentors. Stark differences exist in the percentage of students passing this test in Clarke County and Oconee County despite the close proximity.  In 2011, 92.1 percent of Oconee County seniors passed the test in comparison to the 57.9 percent of students in Clarke County.

“I think this difference comes from not necessarily the number of readily available mentors but the types of mentors available,” said Shelbie Foster, a recently trained mentor. “In Oconee, you have a lot of retirees who are more than willing to mentor but in Clarke County majority of the mentors I see are students at UGA.”

Foster touches on one aspect of why the mentoring hasn’t reached its potential in Clarke County. A large number of students mentor in this area.

“Eighty percent of our mentors are UGA students and we couldn’t run with the program without them we really appreciate them and love them and your enthusiasm but if you would just not graduate and move on, that’s the problem,” Shilton said.

Debra Little is amongst the 20 percent of Athenian mentors that saw the need for long-term mentors. In 2006, Little began working at Athens Technical College. That same year the college inspired middle school aged students to attend college with a mentoring and scholarships incentives through the BELIEVE program.

“I went to the meeting just to learn more about it and I was told just fill out the application and you can decide later, next thing I knew I was assigned as a mentor,” Little said.

Little keeps in contact with her mentee today as a friend and plans to continue the friendship.

“She’s now a freshman at Savannah State College and yesterday I mailed her a Valentine’s card so we still keep in touch, still text each other and the relationship has been really great,” Little said.

Little has devoted her time to long-term mentoring for an array of reasons but her main reason originated in her own home.

“The number one reason I became a mentor is because I had three sons and at one point in my life I was a single parent and trying to find a mentor for my sons was absolutely impossible,” Little said. “It was so difficult to find someone who would mentor young men and so I wanted to be for somebody else’s child what I could not find for my own,” Little said.

Consistent contact with a mentor for one year, at least an hour a week can instill characteristics of better behavior, inspiration and higher school attendance in students.

Regulated class meeting schedules increase school ratings but constricts the time mentors have with their students.

“It was very important for students to attend classes and have an active voice in the classroom but we understand that mentoring has a positive effect on the children’s success as well,” said Dr. Lucy Bush, a former ESOL counselor at Coile Middle School.

The Chamber of Commerce houses the program and provides office space for the two directors. Terry Baez, Assistant Director of the Clarke County mentoring program agreed that money and staffing serve as the real issues of why the program can’t fulfill its full potential.

“We just need more staffing, right now we do a background checks but what we also should do is we should do interviews of perspective members, we should do reference checks, but who would do them,” said Shilton. “I’m the fundraiser, I work with the board of directors, I write all the grants to get money, I do the newsletter, I do trouble shooting with mentors and I keep up relations with the school counselors. We just need another staff person and I need to work more than 30 hours a week.”

Mentoring can raise graduation rates in Athens if citizens take a closer look into volunteering for long-term periods.

With more individuals like Debra Little, high school graduation rates can continue to rise to the same levels found in Oconee County. The Clarke-County mentoring program is housed in the Chamber of Commerce on West Hancock Avenue and applications to become a mentor can be found at

Thrift Stores Attract A New Kind Of Customer

By: Zoe Brawner

Ben Miller, a forty-two year old and father of three, walks into Agora, a local consignment store located downtown in Athens, Georgia and starts to explore the store. He looks up at the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, thumbs through old records, and leaves the store with several great nostalgic finds.

Miller is an example of the new type of customer that second hand shops and thrift shops see on a national level. Instead of a young crowd interested in vintage clothing and items, Airee Hong, the proud owner of Agora, says the customer base has changed.

“It’s not just young people now, because before vintage was all about young people really into vintage but now their moms are into vintage, their grandmas, everybody’s into it, even their fathers. Everybody’s into vintage because its like so different and unique and they’re getting into it. So the kids like you would take their parents into these stores and now they’re the ones coming into the stores so they are following that trend. Its all ages, not just a young thing anymore.”

This influx in consignment shops and thrift shops has led these businesses to thrive in such a thrifty era. The recession spurred growth in these types of shops. According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores, data shows a record number of 15,000 resale shops open, an increase from 13,000 one year ago. The industry has experienced a 7% growth in the number of stores for each of the past two years. Today there are more than 30,000 resale, consignment and thrift shops in the U.S.

Some would even say that retro is the new black. The stigma to shop in a second hand store today has gone away. Shoppers are no longer embarrassed about shopping in these stores. Ben Garrett, the store manager at Dynamite, understands the demand to shop in thrift stores occurs now for a variety of reasons including cheaper prices but resale shops are also consistent with reduce, reuse and recycle.

“I will say though going back to people being more comfortable coming into these places, some of the older women that you find that come in here it is no longer a shunned thing. It’s okay to buy something that’s been worn. Especially for us and over at Agora everything is looked over, everything is gone through and priced accordingly. So if you can get an amazing leather jacket from the 70s and feel like an 18 year old again, why not?”

The location of a resale shop is critical to its success or failure. Geometrx explains that there is a recent industry trend for resale shop owners to establish their shops in locations with greater foot traffic as well as those that are clustered near similar businesses.

Dave Wolfe has been the owner of the resale shop Minx for seventeen years. In Wolfe’s opinion, when resale shops are in a college town they should be as close to the gates of the college as possible. Wolfe stated that because of the short attention span of college aged people, retail stores compete to gain the interest of thousands of people.

As the United States continues to cut the government budget to tackle the debt crisis, individual Americans tighten what they spend their money on as well. In an article from the Wall Street Journal, journalist Sam Schechner quotes Daphne Kasriel, a consumer-trends analyst at Euromonitor,

“Worries about money are chipping away at consumer loyalty to brands. This thrift mindset is here to stay.”

Consumers no longer show austerity when they shop. Thrifting is not just for penny-pinching grandmas anymore, it is a trend that has lost its negative stigma and benefits both the consumer and economy today.

Bike Sharing comes to Athens

Dressed in a “Talk Nerdy To Me” t-shirt, an engineering student tore through a notebook filled with sketches of wheels, rods, frames and handlebars — all components of an automated bike rack. As he shared his ideas, the eight others in the laboratory listened and offered feedback.

The seven University of Georgia students and two professors, huddled in a small room in the south campus engineering building, are developing one of the most advanced and environmentally sustainable methods of transportation seen by the University.

“Bike Sharing” is a modern movement in which urban cities provide readily available bicycles to the public as an alternative way of transportation. The system began in Europe in the 1960’s, and spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and North and South America in the past two decades. Numerous cities across every region of the United States implemented bike sharing operations, including a large system in downtown Atlanta. According to USA Today, the systems are also popular on college campuses. Over 90 universities in the U.S. contain a public bicycle program.

Back in the engineering building at the University of Georgia, the head coordinator of the transportation project, Kareem Mahmoud, is bringing the bike sharing trend to Athens. Mahmoud is a third year finance major at the University, who recently received a grant from the Office of Sustainability to advance the current university bike sharing program and make it more efficient and wide-spread.

“It will be completely automatic where you put in a pin number or swipe a card to check out a bike, and then you can turn it back in somewhere else,” Mahmoud said. “It’s very stream line, very easy.”

The University implemented the current system, called Bulldog Bikes, last fall but has seen little traffic. There are only ten bikes available and students can only check them out at three separate locations, that is, after they complete an online safety course and fill out administrative paperwork.

Nigel Long, who lives at one of the three check-out locations, is one of the few students who uses Bulldog Bikes. Headed for class on a Tuesday morning, he stopped by the front desk of his residence hall to take one of the bikes. While he signed his name in a notebook, he flipped through the pages and laughed at the pattern he saw.

“You would think this was filled with hundreds of students who use the bikes everyday, but if you look closer, it’s all just my name, and then a couple random ones here and there,” Long said. “Biking is such an easy way to get to campus. I think a bigger bike sharing program would be awesome.”

Mahmoud attained the idea of expanding Bulldog Bikes after class one day over the summer. As he sat on North Campus, he looked towards downtown at Broad Street and noticed the immense amount of bikers that passed by. The young entrepreneur thought it would be beneficial to implement an automatic bike system where one could check in and check out public bikes, when needed, at any time of the day.

“At first I brushed it off and thought, ‘No that’s too complicated’,” Mahmoud said. “Then one day I just sat down and began doing the schematics for it to see how hard the coding would be, and realized that this could actually work.”

He researched the bike sharing programs of multiple cities and towns and based his own model off of successful systems of others.

“There is a system like it in Atlanta, a system like it in Miami,” Mahmoud said. “They are all over the place. Even a large number of college campuses have incorporated them, like Texas
Christian University, University of Kentucky, Ohio State, and even Georgia Tech. I figured UGA needed something like this too.”

Some University of Georgia students, like sophomore Hayley Magill, expressed worry about the safety of additional bikers on the road.

“I did bike sharing in Sweden and I loved it,” Magill said. “The only thing that concerns me is if people know all of the biking laws and would be safe on the bikes. I know cars aren’t always looking for bikers on the road so I might be nervous in trying to figure out the safest places to ride. I guess to get to places around campus without having to wait for a bus would be nice though.”

The expansion of the improved Bulldog Bikes beyond campus and into downtown Athens is a longterm goal for Mahmoud and his engineering team. To achieve that aspiration, however, downtown Athens needs to do some progressive development of its own.

BikeAthens, a local organization that encourages the growth of bike transportation, works with the Athens-Clarke County government to make the city more “bike-able”. Tyler Dewey, the director of BikeAthens, thinks there is potential for Mahmoud’s bike sharing program to work in downtown Athens, but he said that it will take time.

“The difficulty with a bike share is it sometimes takes a while to catch on,” Dewey explained. “I know in D.C. they started one and then it kind of fizzled out. Then they started one again about 10 years later and it has been a wild success.”

He said BikeAthens is supportive of anything that increases ridership and awareness of bikes.

“You can always tell the popular areas of town because you’ll see five or so bikes locked up, even if its to a tree because they can’t find parking. To me that suggests that there is latent demand for something like a bike share.”

With a large bike culture present in Athens, Mahmoud is confident that people will embrace this “cleaner” way of travel and, in turn, reduce the traffic congestion on campus and downtown.

He and his engineering team are in the process of designing a prototype that they will test this semester, and then present to the University administration in order to gain approval from Legal Affairs and move forward with further implementation. The main funding of the project comes from the Office of Sustainability grant and student green fees.

Bike sharing programs are successful across the globe for both environmental and economic reasons. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, who helped re-map Washington D.C. to be more bike-friendly, a car emits 15 pounds of air pollution into the atmosphere for every eight miles that it drives. When that distance is biked, however, there is no harm to the environment and there is less strain on the biker’s pocketbook.

Bulldog Bikes is in its infant stage as a program, which Mahmoud and his engineering team intend to mature into a state of the art transportation system. After an hour-long debate over non-rustable metal, the nine University of Georgia students and staff ended their meeting on a playful note in an argument about the color of the new Bulldog Bikes.

“We said we wanted the bikes to be distinct,” Mahmoud said with a sly smile. “I say we go with hot pink.”

New development threatens historic site

Just a year ago, a drive down Oconee Street through Carr’s Hill would show a bustling neighborhood community, housing students and non-students alike, multiple churches, and the historic Oconee Street School; now the headquarters of ACTION Incorporated.  This, however, may not be the case for much longer.

Today, a similar drive reveals a new student housing complex that presses the boundaries of Carr’s Hill, cutting the area off visibly from Downtown and the Oconee River, and choking the already cramped streets and intersections.  This new development coupled with the current economic recession could signify the end of mixed-use housing in the area, and devastating blow to the future of the historic building that houses ACTION Inc.

Located in the old Oconee Street School building on the corner of Oconee and Poplar Street, the Area Committee to Improve Opportunities Now, or ACTION Inc., was founded in 1965 with the goal of helping impoverished families and individuals in Northeast Georgia.  With offices in ten counties, ACTION Inc. provides various services to the children, elderly, and poor of North Georgia, including emergency home repair and self-sufficiency classes, just to name a few.  Marilyn Appleby, the Marketing and Communications Director for the Athens Housing Authority, described the organization as a great benefit to the community and the state.

“They provide programs that help senior citizens who have difficulty paying their utilities,” said Appleby.  “They also offer housing counseling, and they teach classes on budgeting and money management.”

The Community Development Block Grant program plays a big part in the services provided by the organization.  Formed in 1974 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the CDBG fund provides communities with funds that address a wide range of unique community development needs, allowing ACTION Inc. to provide vital services like weatherization, emergency repair, and various other utility cost-cutting services to the elderly and poor around Georgia.

The Oconee Street School that houses the organization has long been a staple of the neighborhood, offering historic charm to Carr’s Hill, an area that the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation has called; “one of Athens most historic areas.”  The building itself was built in 1908 as an initiative to build three new public schools in Athens, and is the only one of that era still intact today.  As one of Athens’ earliest public schools, this building is both architecturally and historically significant, making it eligible to be designated as a national landmark and placed on the national register of historic places, though this is not yet the case.

This important community resource and the historic building that it is located in may be in danger, and it will not be the first time.

With the sign in front of the building dirty and almost unreadable, and the parking lot full of potholes and rocks, this area has definitely seen better days.  A quick survey of the ACTION building as it is now quickly reveals that the organization has been unable to correctly care for it, and has resorted to, among other cost-cutting measures, renting out office space to other organizations.

ACTION Inc. has had several financial difficulties over the years, which has caused many further problems for the organization and put the building that houses it in danger.  In 2005, the ACTION board of directors decided to sell the building in order to eliminate debts reaching a reported $1.4 million dollars, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.  Over the next year, several prospective purchasers of the property came and went, with each ultimately backing out of a deal.

In December of 2006, ACTION filed for a special use permit that would allow for a potential buyer of the property to demolish the existing historic building to make way for 17 townhomes.  After considerable effort by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, and two separate appeals, the application was denied.  A study was then commissioned, according the ACHF, to assess potential use and historic significance of the building itself, with the ultimate goal of designating the building as a nationally recognized historic landmark.

The Oconee Street School Feasibility Study, commissioned by the Heritage Foundation and carried out by Lord Aeck Sargent, an Atlanta-based architectural firm, detailed the historic and architectural significance of the building, as well as potential uses, renovation costs, and tax credits associated with use and renovation of the property.  The study concluded that adequate renovations would total to just under $2.5 million, but the use of the building would be eligible for significant tax incentive programs if the property is ultimately deemed a national historic site.

ACTION Inc. met further financial difficulties in 2011 due to federal budget cuts, forcing it to cut back its hours of operation across all ten offices, as well as make significant cuts to programs like Full Plate, which collects leftover food from restaurants and cafeterias to donate to local shelters.

With a history of debt and mismanagement, coupled with an uneasy economic foothold, the future of ACTION is a little foggy.  According to the Athens Banner-Herald, the organization was able to come to an agreement with the IRS in 2011 to wave a large portion of unpaid taxes, though the organization is still having trouble making payments.

As of yet, the Oconee Street School building has still not been formally designated by the national register as an historic site, and even though it has been deemed eligible for historic status, it is still venerable to new development initiatives in the area.  Amy Kissane, Executive Director of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, expressed concern regarding the status of this historic building, especially with the advent of large-scale housing-developments in the area.

“With the new development going on in the Carr’s Hill area, we don’t know what’s going to happen to the school,” said Kissane.  “We will certainly be watching the area carefully.”

The Daily Groceries Co-op: Locally Grown, Locally Enjoyed

Running through the aisles filled with vivacious conversation, a child passes a grey-haired man standing in front of the colorful display of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The man ends his conversation with a smiling employee of the Daily Groceries Co-op, giving a nod of thanks before enjoying the locally grown ingredients of his Chipotle TLT.

“The atmosphere is more friendly and down-to-earth than other groceries; it’s not caught up in the hub-bub of the [non-local] larger groceries,” a member and customer of the Daily Groceries Co-op for years, Mike Williamson said.

The national trend of shopping for locally grown groceries at locally owned co-ops proves to be rewarding through the Daily Groceries Co-op’s customer reactions. A fundamental difference between co-ops and traditional supermarkets is the unique, valued relationships between the employees and the customers while investing locally grown products.

The National Cooperative Groceries Association reports more than 29,000 co-ops in the United States, allowing millions of co-op memberships.

A grocery co-op is defined as a food distribution organization where the decisions of production and share of the food are chosen by who invests in the co-op. The unique relationship is gained from the fact that the members are also the owners of the grocery co-op.

“As member-owned entities, I think co-ops just have a different level of connection to an engagement with their communities,” director of marketing and communications for NCGA, Kelly Smith said.

The NCGA’s study Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops finds that for every dollar spent at a food co-op, $0.38 is reinvested in the local economy compared to $0.24 at conventional grocers.

This national trend of food co-ops came to Athens, GA when the Daily Groceries Co-op opened on Prince Avenue in 1992.

As a consumer-owned cooperative, the Daily made multiple improvements such as adopting a patronage structure this past month. Through a patronage structure, the co-op owner-member receives a part of the Co-op’s profits through annual patronage dividends. The dividends, a more traditional form of a co-op member discount, are calculated and redistributed back to the members based on their purchases if there is an annual surplus.

“The new system is working very well so far, and holds a lot of excitement for everyone including staff, volunteers, and customers,” staff director for Daily Groceries Co-op, Matthew Epperson said.

Although the relationships of the previous owner-members remain positive, the new $20 fee to join brought in 64 new owner-members.

“Our early joiners have all shared their passion for a community grocery store through their economic participation (one of our co-operative principles), and we look forward to reaching the folks who will listen and consider investing in healthy lifestyles and community involvement,” Epperson said.

The Daily embodies the mutual respect of local farmers and citizens that helps to create a healthier environment, healthier people, and healthier community.

Clay Brady of Foster-Brady Farm began doing business with the Daily in 2009.

The Daily purchases potatoes, muscadine grapes, cabbages, turnips, pumpkins and other fresh produce from the Brady family farm.

“I shop there a lot so a relationship has grown throughout business,” Brady explained, “I consider the Daily to be my friends as well.”

For local farmers, the experience is more intimate than large supermarkets.

“It isn’t like going to a huge market and the employee just handing you your food, the Daily has a conversation with you and is more personable,” Brady said.

Smith compares the experience of food co-ops on a national level versus an investor-owned market.

“Investor-owned chains are owned and governed by investors, who may or may not reside in the community or patronize the business,” Smith said. “A co-op exists to serve its members and surplus revenue is returned to members in proportion to business [that] benefits the co-op. This democratic approach to business benefits the co-op, its members and the community it serves.”

Beyond providing job opportunities and healthy food, the Daily stays involved with the community.

“Daily has provided for and with the Athens community in many ways including donating produce to UGA’s Campus Kitchens, compost to the Athens Land Trust Market Garden, we are stewards for environmental action including recycling, energy efficient bulbs, paper reuse and water efficient faucets,” said Epperson.

Along with the many other activities the Daily participates in, they prepared a delicious variety for Taste of Athens, a benefit for the Community Connection of Northeast Georgia, this past Sunday.

Attendants enjoyed the Daily’s famous V’egg Salad, Pindi’s White Bean Avocado Experience, Energy Nuggets, and Banana Coconut Cream Pie.

“The people serving the Daily Groceries Co-op’s food were vibrant and enthusiastic,” Claire Channell from guide2athens said.

 “It is hard to express the entire nature of your business in a bite sized dish,” Channell added. “However, I think that every business did a fine job of exhibiting their own personality in what they offered.”

Whether judging on a regular day at the store or at a community event, the Daily continues to obtain a positive, productive relationship with the local people.


GED provides new opportunity for undocumented Athenians

Students cradling notebooks file into their GED class, greeting one another in Spanish and filling in the side-arm desks from the back.

“I need it for deferred action,” said one student, a 26-year-old Mexican citizen but U.S. resident for the past twelve years. “I would feel free. With it, you don’t have to be scared anymore.”

Half a million people will get their GED in the United States this year, but education is not necessarily the sole focus of these certificates. For students like the 26-year-old woman, the road to a GED can also serve as a pathway around deportation– at least for now.

On June 15th 2012, President Obama signed an executive order allowing undocumented “childhood arrivals” to apply for “deferred action,” granting immunity from deportation for a two-year period as well as employment authorization. The Athens Latino Center for Education and Services (ALCES), an organization dedicated to promoting the interests of the Latino community in Athens, Ga., has run their GED prep program for over a year, but deferred action revitalized it. Executive director Jeff Zimmerman said registration rose after the announcement, and the center expanded its program in August.

“The deferred action is really big. Being able to legally participate in our economy is a really big deal,” Zimmerman said. “Our GED program, given that possibility, would have a really impact because it opens so many doors for people– brand new jobs they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise, being able to be here without fear of being deported for two years.”

To be eligible for deferred action consideration by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, residents must have arrived in the United States prior to their sixteenth birthday, have continuously resided in the United States for the last five years, have a clean criminal record and either be an honorably discharged veteran, currently in school, have graduated from a high school or awarded a GED. This last provision is where ALCES steps in.

“Our [GED prep] course is pretty intensive, they try to get them through as quickly as possible while still capturing all the necessary content,” Zimmerman said. “We have some pretty focused students.”

The GED is a high school equivalency certificate, open to anyone at least sixteen years of age and not enrolled in a regular high school. The GED is contingent on the cumulative scores of five individual tests. Incentive exists to pass these tests the first time due to the burdens of cost (in the state of Georgia, fees total to $95) and time (low scores can result in a three or six month wait period before individuals can retake the GED tests). Reports from national and local news sources show rising demand for preparation courses from undocumented would-be test-takers, but students struggle to afford private options, barred from free, state-provided classes due to their legal status.

Not every student participating in the GED courses at ALCES does so with aims of deferred action.

“Some want to do it for education purposes or job opportunities,” Zimmerman said.

But he added that at least half, maybe more, are taking these classes in hopes of fulfilling the educational requirement of the policy.

But those who do, according to Jennifer Blalock, an ALCES volunteer who works the front desk, come from all corners of Georgia and even as far as South Carolina to sit in the classrooms at ALCES. She attributes this not only to the classes themselves, but to the role ALCES plays in the Latino community as well.

“We’re established from within the Latino community,” she said, pointing out the multitude of community services ALCES offers.

According to former ALCES executive director Jamie Umaña, 380 students are enrolled in GED classes at the center, a number only limited by classroom space. Blalock says demand is so high that ALCES keeps a waiting list. For the undocumented, the possibility of deferred action makes the GED process all worthwhile.

“I cannot imagine living as an undocumented immigrant. The fear that comes with that of using basic resources that you and I would take for granted every day is crazy,” Zimmerman said. “Being scared of going to the doctor…every traffic stop becomes a terrifying experience– if you’re undocumented you’re un-licenseable.”

Students at the classes agreed. The 26-year-old Mexican immigrant said her life would “change in many ways” if she received deferred action. For her, the most important thing to come with deferred action would be a license, which would enable mobility without fear and the opportunity for a better job.

Another undocumented woman, also from Mexico, agreed. “It’s hard to get a job when you can’t drive or apply with your real name,” she said. The 19-year-old has lived in the U.S. since she was four. Beyond the end, she enjoys the means, saying the classes are good and “getting to learn more about the subjects” is interesting.

Although none of the students knew people awarded deferred action, all still have hope. Hope for a future, according to students, they didn’t have prior to the executive order.

“I dropped out of high school because what’s the point when you can’t go to college or get a job,” said the 19-year-old, now attending GED prep courses but still far from prepared to take the actual test. In the meantime, Zimmerman said the courses build a resource without legal bounds: confidence.

“When people succeed, they get empowered and that can’t really be understated.”

ALCES offers GED classes specializing in language arts, writing, reading, social studies, science and math, either in two-hour increments Monday through Thursday or in a six hour Saturday class. Course duration ranges from three to six months, at $50 a month. The center registers new students every week. ALCES is also always in great need of volunteers to help operate all its many community programs.