Students add vibrance to downtown

Downtown Athens on a Thursday night is a sight to see. Streets swarm with people moving from bar to bar in what has been called the world’s best college town.

The masses crowding the sidewalks are mostly students, attracted to downtown’s 40-plus bars and nightlife spots.

Downtown during the daytime is a different story. The bars, all that are visible at night, melt into the fabric of shops and restaurants and historic architecture.

The Athens Downtown Development Authority’s goal is to keep Athens – day and night – “safe and economically viable.”

Jason Leonard, who owns Flannigan’s and Whiskey Bent – two bars downtown, said that while students come downtown for the bars, Athens is offering a “better product” on all fronts.

“I would say that there’s an increase in a better product overall of downtown. I think the clothing shops are better clothing shops and the restaurants are better restaurants,” he said. “Downtown is providing a better quality product today, which would inspire students to hang out there.”

Bars hire students and cater to students. Students spend their money where their friends are.

“You know how it works, someone recommends someone who knows someone to work here,” Leonard said. “ And we love everyone, but when we hire someone, they usually bring in their network of friends.”

So students use downtown – one way or another. But what about residents of Athens? Visitors?

Kathryn Lookofsky, the executive director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority, said it’s not that black and white.

“Downtown is the center of the community and should have something for everyone within the community,” she said. “I think the relationship between students and residents is a symbiotic one.”

Maura Freedman, a UGA senior, lived on Pulaski Street downtown for three years.

“I feel like every year more and more long term residents are moving out and more students are moving in,” she said. “There are these really nice, big beautiful houses on Pulaski, and I wonder how families feel about paying a significant amount to rent or buy those homes when the neighborhood is shifting towards students.”

Freedman said the neighborhood is attractive to students because of its location.

“Logistically, it’s close to downtown, and it’s nice not to worry about cabs or driving when you go out.”

Maura’s landlord, Lee Smith, said students have been a part of the neighborhood for a long time.

“There’s always been a rental component to Pulaski as long as I’ve lived here,” said Smith, who has owned property on Pulaski Street since 1996. “Over the years, particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s, a lot of people purchased houses that were condemned or in disrepair and turned them into rentals.”

He said there’s no tension between students and residents.

“I’ve never perceived any sort of tension between undergraduate renters and homeowners here,” he said. “Actually, there are several people in our neighborhood, including my wife and I, who over the years have been able to purchase houses around them because we knew we could rent them out to students. We’re surrounded by our rentals – they’re our next door neighbors.”

Smith said he has seen an increase in students wanting to live downtown.

“I’m inclined to think it’s going to be more of the same,” he said. “In the time since I went to school here, downtown has just become more and more urban. So I think we’ll continue to see that. I’d expect denser and more taller buildings downtown. More people will want to live downtown, but I also wouldn’t expect that to only be students.”

The Downtown Athens Master Plan town hall surveys show that 44 percent of attendees want to encourage urban professional residential growth, 20 percent want family housing, and only 3 percent want student housing.

Yet a student housing development is in the works for downtown – set to open Fall 2014. The development will create more than 600 apartments for students.

“I don’t perceive that as negative,” Lee said. “If there are more students living downtown, that’s more opportunity for people to open businesses that cater to students, more restaurants, bars, clubs, maybe even movie theaters. Maybe we’ll finally get a grocery store downtown. There will be other types of development that go along with it – it’s not only going to benefit students.”

He said most Athens residents understand what living in a college town means.

“If you live close to a university, you’re going to be close to students,” he said. “That’s the way it is, so you’ve got to make your peace with it. My wife and I, through our rental properties, are able to continually meet new young people who move to town. We have a wide range of friends that if we lived in a different town we wouldn’t necessarily have.”

Freedman said students are capable of building community downtown.

“Just because a lot of students live there, it doesn’t mean the area is devoid of community,” Freedman said. “There’s a really tight-knit community of people who care about Athens culture and music, so that’s really appealing to someone who is going to be in Athens for a few years.”

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UGA grads “have to grind” in post-graduate intern world

Recent University of Georgia graduate, Dorian Ezzard, wakes up at 6 a.m. in New York City to hit the gym, shower, and get dressed before starting the day at her sports endorsements internship. Across the country, UGA graduate, Blake Mitchell, arrives to his Los Angeles film production office around 9 a.m.

These two college graduates share more than their similar work schedules. They have had four to five internships, they work 40-45 hours per week, they live in big cities full of diverse culture, they go to bed around 10:30-11, and they represent the slim success rate of the ambitious and sleep-deprived intern nation.

Ross Perlin, author of “Intern Nation,” says the Millennials comprise an over-worked and exploited generation that competes for internships that do not benefit careers. More young adults ages 25 to 34 move back to their parents’ households than into their own city apartment. About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 in 2011 were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years, according to a 2012 Atlantic article.

Mitchell and Ezzard would be the first to admit the big city life is exhausting, but even after hours of phone calls and hundreds of e-mails, they still stay in their corporate hubs.

“Even when things are going well, you never feel completely comfortable,” says Ezzard. “Every day is a test but when you want it bad enough, none of that matters.”

Ezzard moved to New York without knowing anyone except who she wanted to become. Ezzard works as an intern for CAA Sports. To reach her dream job of becoming a leading executive in event coordination with a NFL or NBA team she spends 45 hours a week at the office from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. A typical day for Ezzard means always being prepared for the unexpected. She could be researching a company for the Property Sales group, or selecting images of professional athletes to be printed on lunchboxes. Before the day is over, it is a guarantee Ezzard will be pulled into several different directions before the day is over. When the day ends at 6:30 p.m. she takes the subway back home and usually cooks dinner or watches one of her weekly shows until bed.

“If you want to move to New York City,” says Ezzard, “know that you have to grind.”

Ezzard isn’t the only one among her friends to accept an internship after graduation. Some of her friends have done the same to “get their foot in the door at a big company.”

Ezzard was paid for three of her five internships. None of Mitchell’s internships were paid, including time at MGM studios and Double Feature Films. The communications field is so competitive, thinks Mitchell, companies get away with offering unpaid internships. Mitchell knows someone who fabricated a letter of school credit to land an internship working on a T.V. set, free of charge. To balance the toll of taking an unpaid internship, she works part-time at the Disney store to pay her bills, while interning without compensation.

Mitchell’s previous internship resulted in his current position as assistant to the executive vice president of production at Participant Media. He works in the Hollywood culture, but not without his own account of an outrageous intern request. At one of the companies he interned at previous to his current job, there was a producer who dinged her car and wanted it appraised and sent Mitchell to get the quotes.

“One day I spent the entire day, driving her SUV around L.A., when I was 19,” says Mitchell, “I was so nervous, thinking I’m going to wreck this car again. I went all over the place to get quotes. It was the worst situation. They would have been sued if anyone had found out.”

Mitchell enjoys the L.A. lifestyle, albeit fast-paced, that makes a demanding job worthwhile. Besides adjusting time zones, Mitchell’s downsize from a S.U.V to a Prius is one of the transitions he’s made since moving to L.A from Athens, Ga.  He commutes in his Prius to get to work around 9 a.m. His typical day is a “flurry” of arranging meetings, phone calls to executives and producers, and travel plans for his boss. Mitchell is constantly on his e-mail. He even brings lunch to work to eat at his desk to keep working without pausing. Mitchell’s schedule is full, but he owes his job to his internship.

“An internship is a great extended interview to prove that you have what it takes to be hired later on,” says Mitchell. “Most of my friends who are getting jobs out here, it’s because they interned at the place before hand.”

Mitchell advises to be flexible and patient to undergrads peering at the end of the tunnel.

“Put in the hard work, make the connections,” says Mitchell. “Be prepared for hard work and maybe not immediate pay-off.”

Cristina DuQue, a UGA student graduating this May has found a compromise between Mitchell and Ezzard. She is not in an internship or job, but a fellowship. DuQue works at 350.org, a non-profit. She hopes the pay-off of this non-profit fellowship will turn into a career. In the meantime, she works 15 hours a week, with compensation.

“In the non-profit world it is a little bit different, they hold progressive ideals, and one of those is worker’s rights,” says DuQue. “The concept of unpaid internships is kind of looked down upon.”

DuQue has worked in other internship positions and has dedicated thousands of volunteer hours. She believes she focused more time on her career development than her academics. For her, this decision led to paid internships, paid travel expenses to cities like San Francisco, Austin, Portland and Washington D.C., and compensation. She has three to four friends across the country who will probably take a similar route after graduation and enter a fellowship.

DuQue is following the grind of her UGA predecessors Mitchell and Ezzard. Even before entering the post-graduate world, her advice aligns with Mitchell’s.

“It’s all about the networking”, says DuQue, “Even if you do it (internship) just for a month or two after graduation, you’ll meet different people and soon a job will open and they may suggest you apply.”

Although the stress level is high and pay-off seems non-existent, risks and hard work from all three of these cases from UGA reveal what doors an internship can open.

“Go after what you want and don’t be afraid to move to a completely new city not knowing a soul,” said Ezzard, “I did it, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world.”


Undocumented

Protestors chanted “Undocumented! Unafraid!” on March 6 against the Board of Regents’ 2010 decision to ban undocumented students from enrolling in the top five research institutions in Georgia.

The Economic Justice Coalition and Freedom University both housed in Athens joined forces after the rally for the Lift the Ban movement addressing undocumented students banned from applying to the top five higher education institutions in Georgia.

The Economic Justice Coalition met to discuss joining forces with Freedom University on the Lift the Ban and Raise the Wages movements in Athens on March 21.  Both groups anticipate that joining forces will create a bigger buzz on the two issues affecting Athens. The Executive Director of the Economic Justice Coalition Linda Lloyd plans to use grant money to fund both of the projects.

Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama ban students who cannot prove lawful United States citizenship from enrolling into certain universities within the states. Georgia’s ban prevents undocumented students from enrolling in the state’s top five research colleges that are the University of Georgia, Georgia College and State University, Georgia Institution of Technology, Georgia State University and Georgia Regents University.

Athens Technical College allows undocumented students to enroll. But state laws require undocumented students to pay international tuition fees according to the Vice President of Student Affairs at Athens Technical College, Andrea Daniel.

“If an international student does not provide proof of residency and lawful presence then they must pay four times the tuition rate,” Daniel said.

Representatives from Freedom University and the Economic Justice Coalition hope that the conjunction will create a large enough out cry to persuade the Board of Regents to lift the ban against undocumented students.

The issue of undocumented students ignited with the Jessica Colotl case. Colotl enrolled at Kennesaw State University in 2010 but sparked controversy after a traffic violation arrest. She was arrested for traffic violations and later for making false statements regarding her citizenship status and denied from attending classes during the case. The Economic Justice Coalition worked since 2006 to address local issues of immigrant rights.

The Economic Justice Coalition appointed a Latino Outreach coordinator. They organized an Immigration Rights march with 1,500 people in Athens, Georgia in the spring of 2006 and have worked with the local Latino community ever since.

The coalition organized English as Second Language training classes for day laborers in 2008. The classes helped Latino workers communicate with employers and opened up new job opportunities. The coalition developed a nonprofit business to give African-American and Latino day laborers employment.

Colotl’s case initiated the Georgia legislature to draft House Bill 59 and Senate Bill 458. The bills banned undocumented students from receiving post secondary institutions in the state of Georgia in 2011. The bill required students to pay out-of-state or international tuition rates for schools in the state. The March 6 rally held around the arch fell on the 30th day of Georgia’s legislature session. However, the topic of undocumented students was not considered during this year’s session.

Local school efforts ease the burden some undocumented students face. Athens Technical College supports international students in other ways besides financial hardships attendees face.

“International students have access to a host of support programs that all students use,” Daniel said. “ATC [Athens Technical College] offers free tutoring services, a host of student organizations are available for students to become involved with and Career Services are also available. There is an International Club on campus and this organization often works with Rotaract here at the College on International projects.”

However, the largest problem that enrolled undocumented students face is financial aid. The in-state full-time tuition rate at Athens Technical College is $1,455 compared to the international full-time rate of $5,820. The college addresses issues outside of financial ones due to strict limitations of state laws and the demographics they tend to recruit.

“We really aren’t aware of any issues on campus other than when students state they can’t qualify for financial aid,” Daniel said. “Athens Technical College exists primarily to serve Georgia citizens; therefore, non-resident students may enroll in classes on a space-available basis. They shall not displace students desiring to enroll who are legal, permanent residents of the state.”

The demographics of the college’s students are around three percent Asian and four percent Hispanic-Latino.  However, Freedom University’s demographics are 100-percent undocumented students with most students coming from Latina and Hispanic backgrounds.

Freedom University began in 2011 to provide college-leveled classes to students regardless of citizenship status. Some UGA faculty agreed to volunteer teaching classes in undisclosed basements around Athens. Pam Voekel is one faculty volunteer. She spoke with an Athens-Banner Herald reporter about why she wanted to join the cause.

“We asked them as professors what we could do to help as part of that fight and they said well what you can do is teach a class,” Voekel said. “So what we decided to do is open something called Freedom University here in Athens and Freedom University is open to all students regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.”

Freedom University provides more than education opportunities for the students that face issues outside of the classroom.

Freedom University officials assist students with filling out deferral forms allowed under the Obama administration in 2012. These deferrals allow students to attend schools under a two-year work visa at affordable cost. States like Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are still hesitant to approve of these deferrals.

Linda Lloyd jumpstarted a partnership with Freedom University on March 21. Lloyd witnessed a movement to fight for undocumented students higher education access rights. She was inspired to help.

“I was so excited about Freedom University and that rally,” Lloyd said. “At least 200 students, they came and I was just impressed with the level of community organizing.”

The partnership between The Economic Justice Coalition and Freedom University centers around a grant the Economic Justice Coalition receives to fund movements like Lift the Ban.

“Right now we are working on the Resist Grant and Resist is a grant we have received since 2003 it was $3,000 but now it’s moving to $4,000 a year and we want to go ahead and do that grant around the UGA Living Wage and Lift the Ban,” Lloyd said.

Undocumented students attend classes today in the basements of Athens, Georgia. The Economic Justice Coalition, Freedom University and other activist groups are determined to see these students attend classes in the classrooms of schools like UGA one day.

Footage of some of the Economic Justice Coalition’s community board meeting on March 21 can be viewed on the video link below.


Homelessness in Athens Becoming a Continuous Problem

By: Yasmeen Freightman

Paul Nelson had been homeless for over seven years. In those seven years, he had been to the hospital and rehabilitation more times than he can count on both hands for addiction to drugs. Today, three years later, he only seeks to guide more of the homeless off the streets.

Homelessness has been a continuous problem in Athens and it is only growing. According to the 2009 Annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count done by Athens officials, 72% of homeless individuals in Athens claimed Athens as their origin of homelessness. Of those counted, 49% claimed no income source. Since 2009, these statistics have only increased.

Two of the chief homeless centers in Athens are the Athens Area Homeless Shelter and the Healing Place of Athens. The Athens Area Homeless Shelter is a transitional shelter for women and dependent children. The AAHS does depend on community donations for 1/3 of its total budget that goes to its transitional housing program, but most of their programs are almost exclusively funded in part by state and federal grants.

Katie Smith, the shelter director of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, says that AAHS offers several forms of assistance to the homeless. These include the Almost Home Transitional Housing Program, the JobTREC employment program and the rapid re-housing program.

“With our three programs we provide assistance utilizing all resources available to us and have allocated our funding streams to allow us to provide transitional shelter as well as re-housing and employability programs rather than only focusing on one method of homeless assistance,” Smith says.

Smith also says that without either community contributions or government grants, all of the programs would be negatively impacted.

“Through the DCA Emergency Solutions Grant, we have funded the Going Home program for 28 families this year and through the HUD Supportive Housing Programs grant we have provided JobTREC services for over 150 individuals in 2012,” Smith says. “It is extremely unlikely that community contributions could take the place of these grants, which make up over half of our annual budget.”

The JobTREC employment program is an employment assistance agency for homeless people in Athens, where the main goal as a program is to eliminate the barriers that homeless clients face when trying to find employment, whether it is financial, transportation, or skill-related. In 2012, JobTREC served 194 clients.

Greg Purser, the JobTREC case manager of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, says that JobTREC teaches clients about the atmosphere of professionalism and generally has anywhere from 20-40 active clients at one time.

“Some examples of things that we assist with are: obtaining IDs and birth certificates, constructing professional resumes, vouchers for interview clothing, bus passes for job searching, online application assistance, and also work uniform and clothing purchases,” Purser says.

Purser also says that most clients have found jobs in a range of work fields, but there are certain barriers that most homeless mothers undergo when looking for work that mothers who live in AAHS do not have to experience.

“The mothers at AAHS do have slightly different assistance than other clients in JobTREC, one of the most beneficial being daycare services, which are paid for by the shelter,” Purser says. “This generally seems to be one of the biggest barriers to homeless mothers finding employment because they can get stuck in a loop of not being able to find work without daycare and not being able to pay for daycare without employment. In the past few months we have had a variety of jobs that the mother’s have obtained including some restaurant work, sales, and a hospital CNA.”

For a look at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hOpJ3qtOpM.

Even with these programs readily available to Athens’ homeless still on the streets, homelessness continues to increase. Katie Smith attributes the continuity of the problem to the some homeless’ mental health issues and resources that are not readily available to them. In fact, 56% of homeless people are diagnosed with mental health illnesses, 33% are currently or in the past have had a substance abuse problem and 18% are homeless as a result of domestic violence.

“Homeless individuals in Athens often choose not to participate in programs, have undiagnosed mental health conditions, or have reached the maximum time limits that many of the programs in Athens have based on their grant funding policies and procedures,” Smith says. “Additionally, there is just simply not enough bed space in the shelters available in Athens.”

Greg Purser believes that homelessness within Athens is an increasing problem because many cannot find jobs due to the economy along with other issues.

“Although one of the main ways to assist with sheltering more homeless people in Athens is to have more shelter beds available, which is currently being worked on with planned additions to both the Salvation Army shelter and AAHS, homelessness is still a much larger problem than just having a bed available,” Purser says. “As you are probably aware, finding employment can be a difficult task for anyone in the economy that we have been having and this difficulty is increased exponentially by not having a stable place to call home, not having reliable transportation to look for or go to work, not having a phone number to even receive call backs from possible employers, and many other issues facing the majority of unemployed homeless individuals.”

Smith says that building more facilities can compromise for the amount of bed space that the shelters in Athens do not have, which can pacify the issue of homeless on the streets.            “…there is just simply not enough bed space in the shelters available in Athens. The HPC is working to alleviate this issue of space, but building of new facilities takes time and resources that are limited in the community,” Smith says.

Purser believes that if homeless assistance programs continue to progress and develop, more of the homeless on Athens’ streets can and will be reached out to.

“…one thing I have learned while working with JobTREC has been that there are as many different causes of homelessness as there are homeless,” Purser says. “If we continue to focus on services that assist with the entire spectrum of homeless problems and continue to provide assistance with housing and employment, then we should be able to hope to see a real impact in the amount of people that face homelessness in our area and also a decrease in time spent without housing.”


Jean Spratlin: Committed to government for almost four decades

“Most people don’t even think about local government ‘till something comes up and they need something done.”

In her office in City Hall, Jean Spratlin, the Athens-Clarke County Clerk of Commission talks about her job and the importance of local government to herself and to the people of Athens.  With white hair and glasses, Spratlin just began her 39th year as a civil servant in local government, and she does not plan on retiring any time soon.

“Good Lord willing, I’ll be having my 40th Anniversary with the Athens-Clarke County government next year,” Spratlin said with a twinkle in her eye.  For Spratlin, government is not only a job; it is her passion, and as she described it, it began as a challenge.

Jean Spratlin, the Athens-Clarke County clerk of commission, sits in her office on the 39th anniversary of her tenure in local government.

Jean Spratlin, Athens-Clarke County clerk of commission, sits in her office on the 39th anniversary of her tenure in local government.

“I had never worked in local government before, didn’t know that much about local government, so I thought it sounded interesting,” said Spratlin in a vibrant southern drawl.  Back then she had no way of knowing that in 39 years she would be in the same office, doing what she loved.

She began working for Athens-Clarke County in 1974, serving as a clerk under the clerk treasurer, but since that was almost four decades ago, she cannot quite recall what her specific title was.  From there she moved up to deputy clerk, and then on to her current title.

“This has been a continuous job,” said Spratlin, “I have not worked anywhere else since I started.”

As the clerk of commission, her job is to direct the activities that lead to decision-making for the county commission.  Essentially, she helps the government of Athens communicate and understand one another in order to govern more effectively.  She also has a hand in making sure that all of the information gathered by the commission, all of their documents, and videos of the meetings are available to the citizens of Athens.

“I’m not sure there’s any such thing as ‘a normal day’ around here,” Spratlin said with a chuckle.  She explained that any day could bring any sort of issue that she would need to deal with, and often no two days are the same.  Of the few things that her office deals with daily, helping the public and the department of directors to find information from years past are more normal.  Her office is also in charge of publishing press releases that detail any city and county code and law changes, and making sure that the public is aware of what the county commission is doing.

As the official record keeper for the Athens-Clarke County government, Spratlin’s office preforms a vital duty to the public and the government, both now and in the future.

“Twenty, 30 years from now when someone comes and looks something up, are they going to know what was done?” said Spratlin.  “So, when I’m gone, whoever comes after me, or whoever is the mayor or manager or whoever, could come in and find that information without difficulty.”

When speaking with Spratlin, it is easy to see that she is fascinated by government.  While she thinks that people do not appreciate the local government enough for what it does, she enjoys getting other people excited about government.

 “Everything is of interest to me,” said Spratlin, “I can’t decide which item is more important than the other.”  She stressed that remaining neutral in regard to the issues she deals with is a large part of her duty, and one that she takes seriously.  She explained that there is a balance to working in her office, in order to properly allow the commission to understand and vote on every aspect of an issue, she has to be able to explain every aspect.  “If it is important to a commissioner, it is important to me.”

Spratlin has had health problems that cause her to miss some work.  But she dismisses any questions about her ability to carry out her duties.  She conceded that health issues can cause problems when it comes to the workplace, but was sure to make it clear that she is committed to local government and the citizens of Athens-Clarke County.

“It’s just a matter of getting down here and getting mind over matter, I guess.”

.

-Zach Parker


Social Shops: Local Businesses Use Social Media to Stay Competitive

Megan Ernst would not have patronized Red Dress Boutique had it not been for a Facebook post.

The shop runs giveaways for customers who share a designated picture on Facebook. The first time Ernst, a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia, entered Red Dress was after winning an item through this system and shopped for more items while there.

“I realized it wasn’t as expensive as I thought,” Ernst said.

For small boutiques like Red Dress in Athens, Ga., walk-ins and window shoppers are still relevant, but the driving source of customers is shifting to social media.

“Social has now been adopted pretty much universally,” said Sarah Giarratana, a junior copywriter at IQ, a digital advertising agency. “It makes perfect sense. You want to be on people’s feeds, to remind them, to make them say ‘I want that.’”

The trend is clear. Over 80 percent of Americans now use a social network and with audiences moving online, local shops are doing the same. In a retail environment dominated by the low prices chain economics afford, small businesses are using social media to compete. It’s working, and Athens businesses are no different.

“We have people call in a few times a day saying they saw something on the Facebook page and asking the price of it and if we still have it in stock,” said Katelyn Moore, a sales associate with Heery’s Clothes Closet.

Name a social media platform and you’ll find a presence from Heery’s.

“There’s something for everyone– we do Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram. The majority of our focus is on Facebook because that’s where we see the majority of our results,” said Lindsay Lucas, the boutique’s Director of Marketing and Social Media. “None of it is hindering us at all, it’s only appealing to different people.”

Lucas, a three-year veteran of the shop, said this position was created for her upon graduation, so social media has been at an all-time high during her past year as director. Lucas runs giveaways directed through social media outlets and promotes merchandise with pictures, especially during seasonal shifts.

“When it’s cold outside still and people are looking forward to spring, that’s when people go a little crazy on the social media,” Lucas said.

All the hype– and the online interactions with customers– is far from anything Heery’s ever did when it was founded in 1959, but it’s proven worthwhile.

“We definitely see the results,” said Lucas, referring to increased store traffic and revenue.

Facebook is the dominant social media platform for Community Boutique, a vintage and sustainable fashion boutique in downtown Athens, but for owner Sanni Baumgärtner, it’s about selling an image rather than items.

“Customers ‘like’ things and they come in a week later just in general to see what we have,” said Baumgärtner. “I don’t know that we’re selling the individual pieces so much as we’re selling a general aesthetic and image for the store.”
Baumgärtner feels social media marketing is less likely to draw customers into the store for specific purchases because the at vintage stores, sizes are fixed.

“Someone may ‘like’ something, but it’s on a size four model and she’s a size ten,” Baumgärtner said.

Still, for Community, social media has been a marketing necessity for a small business operating on smaller funds.

“We started so low budget, there wasn’t ever a budget for paying for advertising,” Baumgärtner said. “I was a musician before I opened the store, so I was already familiar with the concept of promoting something on social media.”

But familiarity with social media for one purpose does not mean you know how to use it for another.

“Just because we’re native to it, because we’ve been using it our whole life, doesn’t mean we know how to use it,” Giarratana said of social media-based marketing. “There’s an immense amount of strategy.”

Giarratana suggests local storeowners pay attention to search engine optimization, keyword usage, tagging, hashtagging, user-generated content, including creating contests or opportunities where customers are asked to tweet out or post themselves using a product.

“The ones who are going to survive and thrive create engaging content,” said Giarratana, suggesting boutiques utilize trend forecasting and fashion advice.

Business owners agree.

“Rather than just putting tons and tons of stuff on there I think it’s important to create more content that’s meaningful,” Baumgärtner said. “People are on social media because they want to see what’s going on with their friends, they’re not on social media to see ads. We don’t want to overwhelm people.”

To differentiate their online presence from big chain stores, Baumgärtner recommends local businesses emphasize what customers already appreciate about their brands.

“I definitely think it is important for local businesses to keep it personal and maybe tied into local things,” Baumgärtner said. “That’s where we have the advantage over the big companies that have to be so global with their marketing.”

Giarratana says small businesses can improve their distinctive brands through social listening– monitoring posts and reacting to and replicating what people respond to and like best.

“People who run social media in boutiques should reach out and learn,” Giarratana said. “Find people doing it well and emulate that.”

There are customers to be gained from the effort, including students like Ernst.

“There’s a market of people who go to boutiques frequently, but there’s a second tier that sometimes have the money to spend but don’t spend all their time focusing on what to buy next,” Ernst said. “The social media aspect keeps people who wouldn’t necessarily be in the store every week engaged.”


Athens’ “conservatives” defeated again at county convention

The only 12 voters in the room devoid of a “Vote Brewster” sticker, stood alone for the eighth and final time, once again defeated by the tense stares of the seated majority.

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This minority group was scattered among the precinct delegates at the annual Clarke County Republican Convention held on March 9th at the Foundry Inn. They call themselves the the Conservative GOP of Clarke (CGOPOC) and formed after the delegate fraud that occurred in last year’s convention. They are a political action committee committed to replacing the current leadership of the GOP with people who they feel follow strict Republican guidelines. After an entire year of campaigning and reaching out to the media, however, they were once again unsuccessful in obtaining a leadership role.

During the election process of the convention, each candidate had two minutes to convey their qualifications for the position to the public. Most did not take up the whole time slot. Bill Griffin, a CGOPOC supporter who ran for chairman, was a clear exception. With a stern face he gave his blunt opinion about the current GOP leadership, while most of the audience stared down at their feet.

“There’s no easy way to say this, last year’s convention was an embarrassment,” Griffin said during his two-minute ramble. “None of our county delegates were selected at the state convention because the convention was so defective. I submit that we need to change the leadership. I am willing to serve as the chairman.”

His mention of the embarrassing convention referred to the illegal election of the county delegates that occurred last year. Matt Brewster, the county chairman, and John Elliot, the nominating committee chair, disregarded the blatant shouts for a “division”, which is a call for a recount of votes. The meeting was ended improperly and those ignored bombarded the chairman and John Padgett, the Secretary of Georgia State Republican Party, with accusations of fraud. The CGOPOC filmed the fiasco and created a YouTube video that they broadcasted on their website and multiple media sources.

In May 2012 at the Georgia GOP convention, BJ Van Gundy, the chairman of the credentials committee, announced that no delegates would represent Clarke County due to the fact that they were elected illegally.

This year’s county convention was procedural and accurate. The CGOPOC made sure of that. Convention Chairman Bill Bushnell explained each step of the election process multiple times before he allowed any votes to be casted. Although the process seemed elementary to many, Bill Griffin and other CGOPOC supporters stood up various times during the convention to initiate a clarification of the rules.

“Mr. Chairman? Bill Griffin 6B, I understand each candidate gets to speak for one minute, correct?”

Minutes later.

“Mr. Chairman? Bill Griffin 6B, question of privilege, the body deserves to hear the name of the person speaking.”

And again.

“Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? Bill Griffin 6B, can you please clarify what we are voting on?”

Lori Bone, another CGOPOC supporter who ran for secretary, challenged the credentials of one of the county delegate alternates, Chelsea Magee, stating that she did not currently live in Clarke County. Bone proposed that she be put in Magee’s place.

With that, bustle of side comments spread between the seats.

“The rhetorical comments are a violation of the rules,” Convention Chairman Bushnell demanded.

Even after all of the commotion and credential confusion, Bone was once again shut down and did not receive the seat as a county delegate alternate.

Although candidates from both sides spoke on the importance of party unification, there was a clear split from the very beginning of this year’s convention. Each side convened in separate rooms before Chairman Matt Brewster called the meeting to order.

Eyes darted to the CGOPOC pack as they entered the convention room.

There were three levels of the election: county party officials, district delegates and alternates, and state delegates and alternates. The CGOPOC challenged the nominated candidates in all three levels. When votes were taken, the same 10 to 12 people stood in the PAC’s favor among a estimated crowd of 40-50 voters. As a result, the floor passed every original ballot of the nominating committee, despite the efforts of the minority group.

The meeting closed with little public drama. Although internal disappointment still fumed.

In separate interviews held a few days after the convention, Matt Brewster and Bill Griffin revealed their own opinions of the future of the Clarke County GOP; opinions that are on two different spectrums.

When asked if he felt at all threatened by the CGOPOC, Chairman Brewster was quick to deny the continuation of any such group efforts.

“That’s all over,” Brewster said. “Some people would have assumed that the party was split but when it was all said and done it was just a very small minority group that was very loud. They ran TV ads, newspaper ads, and radio ads. A lot of people didn’t care for their message because it was on the negative side.”

Brewster said that he is confident in the direction of the party and that the GOP has already reached out to many of the CGOPOC supporters to try and work with them in the future.

The reaction from Bill Griffin could not have been more opposite.

“If [Brewster] is under the impression that many people have forgotten about that, he’s just delusional. The video speaks for itself,” Griffin proclaimed.

He continued to rant about the lack of advertising from the GOP for the county convention. Only a small blurb was posted in the Athens Banner Harold 15 days prior to the meeting, which is the minimal requirement based on party rules.

“They don’t want people there,” Griffin said. “They say everything is good because, yeah, everything is good for them while they have their power.”

Griffin has chosen to remove himself from the republican politics of Clarke County for the time being.

“I can’t by conscience give my money, time and energy to the county party with the leadership in place and I couldn’t advice anyone else to.”