DeKalb: Our small towns are suffering in this crisis

The blight began before the commercial bubble burst. Optimists, assuming the buy-everything-now utopia would continue forever, that there would be an unending parade of people spending wildly, bought everything irrespective of cost.

Small businesses failed for lack of customers. Boutiques that could no longer afford the high cost of leasing spaces closed. Strip malls began emptying. Major malls suffered vacancies for the first time in many years.

The downturn became more visible in smaller towns when storefronts showed up vacant. Having success because of the biggest buying binge in history, merchants finally understood that paradise was gone. You find evidence of the lack of vision in Avondale Estates, Lilburn, Stone Mountain Village and others.

Some towns recognized earlier that in order to survive during slow times that something needed to be done to revitalize the downtown districts to make them more attractive to visitors.

Norcross completed a refurbishing of their retail area. As a result, you’ll see few vacancies in their primary retail district. Decatur has been a runaway success. Others waited too long and moved too slowly.

Tucker finally realized that Main Street was tired. An urban renewal program was begun and is in floundering stages of completion.

Talking with remaining merchants on Main Street, I heard complaints about how slow the project is progressing. Another business closed recently.

A developer started buying up parcels of commercial property on College Avenue in Avondale Estates when business was still flourishing.

Unfortunately, the development fell onto hard times with the developer unable to finish the project. The work stopped with the abandoned buildings now faded and run-down, further driving off visitors.

One of the primary reasons for the loss of customers in smaller towns is the tired appearance of older commercial buildings.

For people to return to a commercial area there must be eye-appeal other than a glitzy administration building.

People relish the environments of greenery, colorful shrubbery, flowers and refreshed buildings; something appealing, something compelling.

That’s been part of Decatur’s appeal.

With the economy in the tank it will be necessary for building owners to reduce the cost per square foot of space and for governments to reduce taxes so it will be profitable to open a new business or remain in an existing one.

Many strip centers are also in a crisis. During the economic utopia a strip center opened at the corner of Five Forks Trickum and Sugarloaf Parkway, anchored by Publix. It was fully leased.

I drove by the strip center recently and counted vacancies. Since the economic bust it has turned into anxiety for the few remaining tenants. Taxes and rent are too high for this economic meltdown.

Bill York, a retired furrier, lives in Stone Mountain. Reach him at