Storeowners angered by new downtown loading policy

By Lauren McDonald

Due to a new traffic law downtown, Jim Adams can no longer see Jackson Street out of his single storefront window for a majority of the day. Instead, he now stares at the side of a delivery truck.

Adams, owner of Adams Optics, said the newly painted loading zone for distributors is seven and a half feet from his store’s entrance.

“Number one, I can’t see out,” Adams said. “And number two, nobody can see in. And people will think we’re closed. I’m not happy at all.”

Adams is one of several storeowners on Jackson Street who feel that their businesses have been negatively and unfairly affected by the recently implemented loading zone ordinance downtown.

The new “center lane policy,” passed by the Athens-Clarke County unified government in December, has been in effect for four months.

According to the policy, it is now illegal for all delivery drivers to load or unload in the center lane of Clayton Street. These vehicles must park in the new loading zones painted on the north-south streets, such as Jackson Street.

The new policy has been delayed by the painting of the new loading zones, but storeowners have recently begun to notice the effects of the change.

And several wish they’d been consulted.

“I just can’t imagine what they were thinking,” Adams said. “Nobody from the city came into my office and discussed it with me, so I had no idea that this was coming about. When I questioned them, they said ‘Well it was in the paper.’ Well, who reads that sorry paper?”

Adams said only two parking spots were left in front of his store.

“If a car is parked there, somebody can see my store,” Adams said. “But if a beer truck, a UPS truck or FedEx truck is, nobody can see me at all.”

The Athens government passed the new policy as an attempt to address the ongoing issue of allowing stores downtown to receive deliveries, without the delivery trucks impeding traffic.

“Everybody knows downtown Athens is unique because it was built without alleys, so there’s not anywhere to put your trash, there’s not anywhere to accept deliveries,” said Pamela Thompson, director of the Athens Downtown Development

Authority. “So everybody knows you have to make accommodations to get goods into the businesses.”

In 2002, Mayor Nancy Denson attempted to address this issue by allowing delivery trucks to park in the center lanes of Clayton Street and Washington Street.

But while this policy appeased distributors, Athens drivers, pedestrians and some business owners were unsatisfied.

“The concern was that the delivery trucks, especially on Clayton, were creating a potential traffic hazard – because you have parking, a travel lane, then the delivery truck,” Thompson said.

Delivery trucks parked in the center lane also became an eyesore, she said.

“You lose some visibility, if they had an outdoor restaurant or café, when your view is of a delivery truck,” Thompson said. “For the retail stores, sometimes if you’re just window shopping, you may be on one side of the street, you look across the street and see a store that you want to go visit. But if there’s a delivery truck in the way, you wouldn’t see that window.”

So the Commission took the issue up again in 2014, with the help of Mayor Denson. They sat down in April to discuss a solution to this difficult problem.

Officials decided to create loading zones on the north-south streets, allowing the center lanes to be used only for traffic flow from noon to 3 a.m.

“We wanted to make sure that delivery drivers didn’t have to walk too far, so we just picked four businesses that seemed pretty far from the loading areas and measured that, to see that the farthest any one business would be from a loading zone was 162 feet,” Thompson said.

She said traffic downtown has improved since the policy went into effect.

“One reason we think it’s going to be successful is because we have created enough larger, longer loading zones on the north-south streets that weren’t there before,” Thompson said. “So we think we’ve provided enough alternate spaces to park to do your loading and unloading that it will be successful.”

Chris Stallings, director of sales and marketing at the beer distributor Leon Farmer and Company, said his deliverers have not faced any issues since the policy took effect.

“We haven’t run into anything that has prevented us from servicing our customers,” Stallings said. “But from a whether it’s positive or negative standpoint, it’s such a work in progress right now, that I really would hate to say anything positive or negative about it.”

Since the policy took effect, the ADDA has worked to educate the downtown community about the change, and for the first month they only gave warnings for those violating the new law.

“We gave to all the business owners the new ordinance, so that they could give it to all of their delivery drivers, because this applies to everyone – beer delivery, food delivery, linens, anything you’re getting,” Thompson said. “For about a month, we ticketed with warnings.”

But Adams said he never received this information.

Adams and other storeowners on Jackson Street, including the owners of Dynamite Clothing and Community, complained to the ADDA. He said they have not yet been offered a solution.

“If you’re a store on Clayton Street, and a beer truck is parked in the center lane, it is probably 50 feet from the beer truck to the front of the store,” Adams said. “If a beer truck is right there, it’s seven and a half feet from the front of my store. Nobody will be able to see me.”

Adams said he feels that the new law was created with bar owners specifically in mind.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. Eighty-five percent of the trucks there are beer trucks,” Adams said. “Well the bars don’t open until 10 o’clock at night. Well, why not deliver at night? They said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to inconvenience any body.’ Well, it inconveniences me when I don’t have any business because of it.”

Adams would like to see the loading zone in front of his store removed.

“They better be concerned about the merchants – the few remaining merchants that aren’t bars,” he said. “This town caters to the bars, and that’s just facts.”

Advertisements

Businesses still struggling to comply with recycling ordinances a year after deadline

By Evelyn Andrews

Krysten Dryfus finishes a milk container, but walks past the trash can to her outdoor closet where she stores her recyclables. Dryfus lives at the Connection at Athens and she is not aware of any recycling at the complex, so she keeps her recyclables and takes them to a recycling center.

“I just want to help the environment and recycle, but it’s so difficult and inconvenient because I have to collect all my trash and take it to a recycling center,” said Krysten Dryfus. “I wish more apartments in Athens recycled like they do in the dorms at [The University of Georgia].”

Under an Athens-Clarke County ordinance that took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses and apartment complexes are required to have recycling bins, educate residents and customers about their recycling program and have adequate recycling space.

It turns out that the Connection does have recycling bins, but residents seem to be unaware of them because the apartment has failed to educate their residents at the proper level, said Joe Dunlap, a commercial recycling specialist at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.

“If an apartment complex installs a recycling Dumpster and doesn’t tell anybody about it, yes, they are recycling but they’re not compliant with the ordinance,” he said.

“All residents are given information on recycling the day of move-in and we do encourage them to utilize the resources provided,” said Melissa Brand, the bookkeeper at the apartment.

However, Dryfus said that she doesn’t remember receiving information and has not heard about recycling programs since moving in.

Apartments are also not compliant if they do not have adequate recycling space. The Connection has one recycling container, the same size as a typical garbage disposal container, Brand said. However, Dunlop said one container is not enough space for a complex of that size.

Dunlop said about one-third of all businesses in Athens, which includes apartments, comply with the regulations. The number is fluid, Dunlop said, but a January Red & Black article said about 74 out of 284 apartments comply. Many apartments that are not compliant do have recycling, but lack education.

“A lot of apartments have put recycling in place, but it hasn’t been promoted as well as I would like and there is not the education level that I would like for residents,” Dunlop said.

Other businesses or apartment complexes are either unaware of the ordinances or waiting to see if Athens-Clarke County will enforce them. The recycling division is now pursuing businesses that don’t comply with the regulations more aggressively since the deadline to comply was Jan. 1, 2014.

“We are now more aggressively going after those that are not compliant,” Dunlop said. “If we have been working with somebody for a while and they still do not have the recycling in place, then there is a process where we turn them over to code enforcement and they are issued a citation.”

The Club apartment complex is the most recent to be turned over to code enforcement, Dunlop said, but an apartment representative reported that they do now have recycling.

The county has a benchmark to reduce waste in 2015 by 40 percent from levels in 2010 and Dunlop said they are ahead of schedule. The county has reduced waste by 47 percent and is working toward their next objective – reducing waste by 60 percent in 2018 and 75 percent in 2020.

All of this work by the county was in jeopardy of being stopped before completion. Earlier this month, the Georgia Senate passed a bill, Senate Bill 139, intended to prohibit local governments from restricting the use of plastic bags.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Athens Sen. Frank Ginn, also would have had significant consequences for Athens – it originally eliminated local governments’ ability to regulate recycling. This would have overturned the ordinances that require businesses and apartments to recycle.

However, work by Jerry NeSmith, the ACC District 6 commissioner, and Dunlop helped convince legislators to change the language so that local governments still had control over

regulations. NeSmith argued in an opinion piece for Athens-Banner Herald that the bill “does exactly the wrong things.”

Environmental factors also motivated NeSmith to try to stop bill, citing statistics that 24 million tons of plastic are disposed of every year and less than two million are recycled.

“My effort was, of course, to completely kill the whole idea of not allowing us to have ordinances regulating plastic bags,” NeSmith said, “but at the very least, don’t make us go backwards by making our existing recycling ordinances illegal.”

Although the part of the bill that would overturn the county’s ordinances has most likely been changed, it may still be included when it leaves the House Rules Committee.

“We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Rules Committee, but I believe we have been successful in changing that part of the proposal,” NeSmith said.

Dryfus is grateful that the bill has been rewritten so that recycling will continue to become easier for her and others in the community.

“I’m glad the bill won’t make it so that Athens business don’t have to recycle,” Dryfus said. “I hope the Connection starts to make it easier to recycle and more businesses and apartments start to recycle.”


Georgia laws stymie craft beer sales

By Evelyn Andrews

Many people visiting breweries come in expecting to buy beer or bottles to take home. Laws restricting brewery sales make that impossible in Georgia, a fact Erin Moschak, a manager at Creature Comforts Brewing Company, says causes confusion for customers and ultimately, lost profits for breweries.

“At least 10 people a day will just not understand. They want to walk in and buy a beer,” Moschak said. “They don’t understand that they cannot buy a beer directly and sometimes they will get extremely confused and even leave.”

Instead of selling beer, Creature Comforts and similar breweries sell a glass that the beer is distributed in along with a wristband that allows a customer six samples of free beer since they are not allowed to sell beer to consumers. Moschak said this system “essentially the same” as selling beer directly.

The laws in Georgia restricting breweries that cause these situations were enacted during the post-Prohibition era and have remained largely unaltered since then. These laws restrict breweries ability to sell alcohol directly to consumers, force them to be open to the public for a certain number of hours and do not allow them to sell beer that consumers can take home. Georgia beer brewers and state legislators are hoping to change that.

Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) introduced last week the Georgia Beer Jobs Act, Senate Bill 63. The bill would allow breweries, such as Creature Comforts or Terrapin, to sell up to 72 ounces of beer per person. Copper Creek Brewery and other brewpubs, breweries sell food in addition to beer, like it would be able to 144 ounces per person. Both breweries and brewpubs would be allowed to sell a 12-pack of beer that a customer could take off the premises of the business.

Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Athens), one of five co-sponsors of the bill, said Georgia is losing revenue and tourism because of the restrictions.

“I think we are missing some opportunities on growing our industries and, more particularly, a lot of tourism capabilities,” said Sen. Ginn, the chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

However, the amount of revenue that Georgia would gain if the laws were repealed is unclear, Sen. Ginn.

Many local brewery owners agree that the laws hurt their businesses’ growth and stifle the creation of new breweries.

Data from the Brewer’s Association shows Georgia is No. 44 in the nation for breweries per capita, a fact many hypothesize as a result of the restrictions placed on the businesses. The state is No. 29 in the nation for total breweries with a total of No. 22, according to data by the New Yorker.

Only five states in the U.S., including Georgia, do not allow breweries to sell alcohol directly to customers, according to statistics from the Brewer’s Association. The last in the Southeast to continue enforcing these laws is Georgia.

Repealing the three-tier system comprises a core part of the bill, which has to be done in order to for breweries to sell alcohol to consumers. The three-tier system divides the groups involved in selling beer into three sections that define their limitations on selling beer.

“The three-tier system keeps a strict line between the people that manufacture alcohol, distribute alcohol and retail alcohol,” Sen. Gill said.

Breweries manufacture the beer that is sold to distributors who then sell the beer to retailers which consumers buy the beer from. This system was created to stifle the creation of monopolies and protect consumers.

Distributors of alcohol comprise the majority of the support base for the current laws, contending that the laws protect concerns, according to a Flagpole Magazine article. However, Sen. Ginn said that while that was a concern during the Prohibition era when the laws were created, enough consumer protection laws now exist to eliminate that issue.

“There were not as many consumer protection laws during the Prohibition era that there are today,” Sen. Gill said. “That is one of the arguments against the three-tier system, that there is more opportunity to protect the public today.”

The three-tier system still in effect, in part, because of the effect religion has on people’s perceptions of alcohol, Sen. Ginn said.

“The way that we treat breweries in Georgia has a lot to do with our history and people’s upbringings and beliefs, such as people look at like alcohol is a sin,” he said.

Passing the bill could be a formidable task due to the power of distributors’ lobbying efforts, according to a Flagpole Magazine article, and could amount to a two-year process. However, Sen. Ginn said the bill has been assigned to a committee and will vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

The supporters of the bill hope that the bill will also define brewpubs restrictions, allow breweries to set their own hours and change tasting room restrictions.

Creature Comforts will still likely have a wristband system to limit consumers’ beer consumption to the legal amount, but the law will still help their business, Moschak said.

“We do not even know yet what we will do if the bill passes, but it definitely will help stop how confused our customers are,” Moschak said.


20th Anniversary of the Classic Center Brings Reflection on Community Impact

By: Patrick Adcock

Downtown Athens would not be the same place it is today without the Classic Center.

This year, the center celebrates its 20th anniversary of serving the community. For the past two decades, the center put on events and shows for all ages and became the nucleus for large-scale entertainment in Athens and northeast Georgia.

According to a 2012-2013 economic impact report carried out by IMPLAN, a group that provides economic impact modeling data, the center brought in 360,000 attendees for 1,275 event days that year. This activity resulted in $65 million in economic impact for Athens.

Overnight visitors to the town spend, on average, $277. 19 per day and 9% of the hotel rooms in the surrounding area are related to convention business.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols came to the center in 2013 as part of his Clean Fuel Roadshow. The spacious halls allowed for many people to come, and the driveway in the front displayed several eco-cars.

The Classic Center is a big deal for the economy of Athens and the visitors who use the center’s rooms, but the center has not always operated at the same level it does today.

According to the official website of the center, the oldest portion of the center dates back to 1912 and was originally known as Fire Hall No. 1. Several decades ago, it was the town’s fire station.

In 1987, the local government created the Civic Center Study Committee to decide what type of public assembly area would best serve the interests of the citizens. The end result became the Classic Center, and construction began in 1994.

The original building plan would have demolished Fire Hall, but the community spoke up for its preservation.

In 1995, Paul Cramer, the executive director of the center, opened the doors to the public. The first production put on by the theatre was the musical “Cats.”

“The Classic Center has grown tremendously in the past 20 years,” said Cramer, “from one event on the books in 1995 to now 700 events per year.”

During that time, the Classic Center grew with the community of Athens.

Several expansions over the years, most recently in 2013, allowed even more events to be put on for even more attendees. The area of the many rooms and halls now totals 500,000 square feet.

The expansions were the solutions to trouble brewing for the center. If they didn’t expand, the community would outgrow them and the center would gradually lose significance. At the same time, the town of Athens eyes any grand developments suspiciously, hoping to retain its small town origins.

Marketing Manager Elizabeth Austin is pleased with the way things have turned out.

“It was really important to expand when we did,” said Austin. “Certain groups that we serve, such as the North Georgia United Methodists, were beginning to outgrow us.”

“Another one of the great benefits of expanding has been our newfound ability to put on sporting events,” said Austin.

In the end, the people decided to continue funding Classic Center expansions because of what the center was able to give back to the town.

The Classic Center also enjoys a close relationship with the University of Georgia. Sporting teams such as UGA’s club ice hockey team, the Ice Dogs, use the center for tournaments. The Classic City Rollergirls also frequently make use to the center’s arena.

In addition to sporting events, the center’s partnership with UGA allows Broadway shows to come to Athens that would be too costly for either to hire alone.

Thinking forward to 2015, Austin sees a shift in the kinds of events on offer.

“With the expansions, the sheer size of the Classic Center has become an asset for us to put on bigger events while still serving the core Athens community.”

SPLOST, the special-purpose local-option sales tax, funded the 2013 expansion as well as all previous expansions. In Georgia, counties have the ability to levy a sales tax specifically for the development of parks, roads and buildings such as the Classic Center. SPLOST matters to the center, because the retained earnings from the events are relatively small.

In the same IMPLAN study, the projected earnings for fiscal year 2014 are $6.6 million in revenue. Projected expenses of $6.3 million closely match that number. The remaining $300,000 in retained earnings goes toward maintaining the facilities. The Classic Center must continually reinvest in itself in order to continue putting on events.

Looking forward into 2015, there are no more expansions coming down the pipeline for now. For the center’s 20th anniversary, the team plans to put on an event in the spring to make the most of the outdoor pavilion.

Announcements of the time and date for that event will be revealed in the next few months.

Cramer looks back on his time with the center with fondness and sees a positive future ahead.

“I believe we will continue to invest in tourism, expand our entertainment offerings in a way that exceeds expectations of our guest, benefitting the local and regional communities and reap those benefits for years to come.”


Athens Area Chamber of Commerce makes global connection

By Emily Curl

While located in opposite sides of the globe, Athens-Clarke County and the City of Greater Geelong in Victoria, Australia have much more in common than one would suspect.

In hopes to improve downtown development and bring additional business to Athens, officials are researching and discussing new ways to help Athens’ businesses develop and succeed.

On February 8th, officials from the two cities met to discuss mutual interests in opportunities for economic development and signed a “Memorandum of Understanding to acknowledge the strategic relationship between the two cities,” as stated on the Athens-Clarke County website. Read the rest of this entry »


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.”