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Sunday, May 16, 2021
Home Local Business Op-Ed: Pain On Main Street?

Op-Ed: Pain On Main Street?

I confess I had gotten to a point where I could no longer even see the problems.

It is, however, one of those “Once you see it, you can’t un-see it” scenarios.

I was interviewing shopkeepers along Grayson’s Main Street and the appearance of one particular building came up repeatedly when the conversations turned to the downtown’s appearance. That building is the “Drug Court” structure next door to the Courthouse at the corner of Hord and Main Street.

Neighboring shops and businesses including a new dance studio have poured their energies (and financial resources) into making their exteriors look clean and inviting.

Observations about the Drug Court building were always followed by comments like, “It wouldn’t cost much to fix that either.”

Of course, that brought up discussions about other downtown properties in need of attention, including a few that are widely regarded as beyond salvage at this point. There are reasons for that in several cases, including complicated family legal dynamics, although many noted there are also several excellent buildings which are simply idled, vacant and unavailable for purchase.

I asked one local business owner to take a couple of minutes and type out a few thoughts on the subject for an Opinion/Editorial column for Carter County Post. The small business owner sat down one morning and tapped out everything in a single pass, then emailed the piece without even proofreading it.

I agreed to publish the piece.

Tim Preston, Community Journalist

—————————————-

The submitted column, titled “Main Pain Street” follows:

Main Pain Street

What was the hub of town now hurts to look at.

Main Street. Yes, Main Street. The heart and soul of our town. It is where so much business began here. Movie theater, merchant shops, restaurants- we had it all. You know what else we had? Beauty. 

I’m concerned about the soul of our town. I feel like it has been lost over the past 20 years. It is one of my biggest desires to bring it back. I think it’s doable, but some things have to change.

That change starts with keyboard warriors on Facebook, it starts with those who work on Main Street, it starts with our residents- the change starts by actually caring. If you’ve complained once about our town… YOUR town… it’s time to step up.

We could transform our town by improving 1,675 feet of Main Street. That’s the distance from Court St. to Carol Malone Blvd. Are you in? Let’s talk deeper about the issues. I believe it’s a two fold issue- it’s ugly and it has no life. 

Ugliness and lifelessness go hand in hand, but one has to start. So let’s start with the ugliness.

U-G-L-Y

Have you driven up Main Street lately? Building after building has ripped or stained awnings. I don’t want to hurt feelings, but let’s name one building for hard evidence- DRUG COURT. The awning is ripped in multiple places, the color scheme isn’t great, the paint is flaking, and it’s truly an eye sore.

I’ve been told that a dozen times over the last year. Between Carol Malone and Court Street the list continues of other buildings that are an eyesore. 

FBC Grayson, Your office’s front door is disintegrating. That should be a simple fix. Your parking lot isn’t beautiful either, but that’s a big job and we understand that takes time. 

Ms. Haney-  your building is old, but it’s charming, and you’re the queen of Main Street. You keep on keeping on, ma’am. We will support you! 

McCloud, Horton Bros and Brown- thank you for doing your part to bring a little beauty back to our Main Street. 

City crew- I see you water the flowers in the summer mornings on Main. Thank you for your hard work. 

Citizens, the foundation is slowly being built due to the work of the McClouds and Greer’s at Dance with Hope Studios. People have begun the work for Main Street to be beautiful again, but it takes more than 5-10 people. It takes ALL of us having some pride in the soul of our town. 

Lifeless

“The ugliness is compounded by the lifelessness. So many buildings are empty on Main Street. Main Street has many choices available to bring life back: another restaurant choice (Thank you Johnny’s for being a staple on Main), coffee shop, ice cream shop, book store, a venue for an event, one screen movie theater, etc, etc. 

Business is changing, I get that, but we can adapt. I hear people saying now, “BuT gRaYsOn CaN’t SuPpOrT a CoFfEe ShOp!.”

That may be so. But, it can support a coffee shop that also has a bookstore attached where the owner ALSO sells vintage books on eBay in the back. Pay attention here, because this is where I think people get hung up on small business in Grayson: one source of revenue may not cut it anymore in a small time. I believe multiple streams of income is the best way to stay profitable in a small town. We need learn a skill our town hasn’t been very good at- Adapting.

With some ingenuity, pride, and forward thinking we can MAKE A CHANGE

I know there’s some people out there ready to bring life back to Main Street. People who want to see action in the summer on Main Street after 6pm. I know I want to see it.

Picture this: You walk out of Johnny’s restaurant after a wonderful pizza for supper, and you wave at your high school friend who is walking out of Remax after making an offer on their first home. You cross the street to congratulate them and walk down to the remodeled Boggs’ building. Inside, you browse the new book store for a new release from your favorite author while your significant other checks out the boutique clothing store the next door down. You both meet back up on the side walk in ten minutes and hit the very next door down for some ice cream.

You both step back out onto Main Street with ice cream cups in hand and walk down past the Justice center to the music you hear playing. It’s coming from “The Gap” between Caribbean Sun and Brown’s.

The Gap has lights strung above you and plenty of seating inside. In the back near the alley way is a taco truck with a small line in front of it waiting to order. Off to the side is a man, a guitar, and a small stage where he’s covering your favorite pop song from your childhood.

You take a seat and enjoy the ice cream, the breeze, the music, and the company.

This is a realistic Friday evening in Grayson if we adapt… progress… change.

Part of the reason we don’t have life downtown, however, is the lack of available space. Empty building/land owners, please quit suffocating our town’s soul. If your building isn’t being used or hasn’t been used in the past 3-5 years, please put it on the market. 

Using rough numbers (someone is more than welcome to correct me, 10 out of 39 lots/buildings between Carol Malone and Court Street are empty- over 25%! Would you believe: NOT ONE OF THEM ARE FOR SALE! The Hardware/antique building(s), the building next to the Veteran’s Park, the monument building- they all appear to have no activity and have been for years. This is a large reason why our town’s soul is dying. People want to come, they just don’t have a place to come to.

I don’t know if the buildings are being held by owners for a “dream business” that has never came to fruition in the last ten years. I don’t know if they’re being held for the right price to come along. I don’t know what the exact reason is. But I know one thing, the right price is never coming along if you don’t list it, and if you’ve not made your business happen in the last ten years, it probably won’t come in the next ten either.

But hear me out Grayson residents: Your children are here and your grandchildren are here. They need this town to succeed. I plead- PLEASE sell/rent your building on Main Street if you’re not using it. Put whatever is holding you back from doing so aside. Do it for OUR town. Let’s make our heart and our soul SHINE again.

If owners took pride in their storefronts and if owners sold their empty buildings, I GUARANTEE Main Street would quickly become more alive. It starts with you. It starts with the Negative Nancy keyboard Warriors on Facebook being positive and hopeful, it starts with the business owners taking pride in their businesses (or building owners taking pride in their rentals), it starts with the building owners who have sat on empty buildings to move on to revitalize our downtown.

It starts with YOU.

Help us make Main Street less painful. We will lead, but you have to assist. We can’t do this alone. 

But this comes with a request. If you desire businesses to come to main, you have to show them GRACE. Johnny’s can mess up someone’s order once, or be a little slow, and I hear people swearing to never return. The SAME person will go to McDonald’s 3x a week, have their order messed up once weekly, and won’t bat an eye. We have to take care of our own- our own citizens, our own businesses. It is on YOU to show grace to our local businesses if you want downtown to flourish. It’s also on you to show up and support these businesses even if ” I can get it $4 cheaper at Walmart”.

I penned this with love. Love for you, love for our town. This was written to spark a mindset of growth and change. Nothing about this was meant to be negative a week from now, this should be all POSITIVE and exciting. There’s so much available to Grayson if we reach out and take it! Business owners and building owners, will you be a part of the change? To my fellow residents, I’ll be sure to say hello when we are on main next summer with an ice cream or book in hand. We deserve this, our children deserve this.

-A resident and business owner


Carter County Post reached out to Grayson Code Enforcement Officer Duane Suttles and allowed him to read the merchant’s opinions, and accompanying photos prior to publication.

“I’m inclined to understand where the concerned individual comes from,” Suttles said, explaining “I’ve had similar conversations with current Main Street business owners and we’ve had the same conversations as you see here.”

Suttles took a deep breath, exhaled and added “I assure you, the city wants to see Main Street be vibrant again. I think we can all agree the hustle and bustle of a thriving downtown has moved to other streets.”

Suttles also acknowledges the basic nature of business on Main Street has fundamentally changed since the days when downtown had movie theaters, a hospital and a thriving retail scene.

“Main Street is now more of a professional district because of limited parking. Businesses that rely on heavy foot traffic have it tough. Doctors, CPAs and attorneys … people who have one or two people in at a time. I think they can thrive on Main Street,” he said. He later added he believes a small carry-out diner with a targeted menu might also do well on Main Street, citing potential business from courthouse workers as well as downtown office workers.

Nearly all of Main Street’s downtown structures can be refurbished and renovated, Suttles said, noting he and Building Inspector Taylor Duncan have those buildings, along with many others, on a list of places they intend to soon visit for their own evaluations.

The Boggs Building on Main Street, which now has ceiling materials piling into the front windows, is definitely on that list, he said. Quickly, he explains there are many longstanding regulations which determine what can and can’t, or should or should not, be done.

“I’m not sure if that building can be repaired or not,” Suttles said, adding the essential question for himself and Duncan is whether or not the building offers any sort of legitimate threat to the public.

“It is secure, and there is an active business next door that has never filed a complaint,” Suttles said, clarifying there are three connected buildings at that location, and if the vacated space were to be condemned the active business would be displaced.

Crediting Mayor George Steele, Suttles said the city of Grayson has made considerable progress on Main Street issues, including replacement of nearly all sidewalks in the past 10 years or so, as well as installation of brick inlay and removal of grassy areas which required mowing and caused trimmings to be tracked into shops, and installation of more appealing streetlight features along the right side of the street.

Smiling, he notes state officials declined to pay a share of the cost of those street lights because local officials had no photos of historically similar illumination. “So the city bore the entire cost, just because we wanted to see the city thrive.”

Similar lighting can’t be installed along the other side of Main Street because of existing utility lines which would be quite expensive to relocate, Suttles said.

Looking back, Suttles said many of the now “nappy” awnings above the entrances of Main Street shops were initially paid for by the “Main Street” program, which has since significantly changed.

Today’s local Main Street merchants might consider a new alliance, Suttles suggested.

“If those businesses on Main Street could organize … they already have an association with the Merchant’s Parking Lot. If they had some sort of a similar organization they could get mini grants for things like awnings and banners for poles during events like Memory Days.”

Without comment, he also verified the “Drug Court” building is listed as property of the Carter County Fiscal Court.

Suttles offered his assurances that city officials are extremely receptive to any concerns and considerations about the issues discussed in this article.

“The city is always open to discussions and coming together to solve a problem. People can talk to me or Mayor George Steele by calling city hall at (606) 474-6651.”

Story & Photos by TIM PRESTON

Carter County Post

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