It seems appropriate that at the edge of the holiday shopping season that the Chamber of Commerce is shopping a plan to get more retailers into Troup County.
Having grown up here, I know that one of the top complaints behind “there’s nothing to do here” — especially as a teenager — is “there’s no good places to shop.” It seems whenever serious shopping talk comes up, especially for the holiday, it’s time to plan a trip to Atlanta, Newnan, Columbus, or the Opelika-Auburn, Ala., area.
Those cities, all within about an hour’s drive, offer many more options than Troup County for spending disposable income. As LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce president Page Estes also pointed out during Friday’s County Commission work session, when locals are shopping out of town for things they can’t get here, they also may be buying things they could get here while they’re out.
Estes pegged the annual amount of local sales tax money going to surrounding areas at about $350 million. That’s a lot of padding for those drooping school and governmental budgets.
Although some shopping options have grown in LaGrange, others have remained unfilled or simply gone away. We have more drug stores and places to eat downtown than when I was in high school a decade ago, but there are still plenty of gaping holes in what’s available locally.
For me, the most obvious space to fill would be entertainment. Just Saturday I made the drive down to Auburn to buy some CDs from a store there. Why? My only options were to make the drive or buy online.
Conglomerate Walmart offers a little bit of everything, but when you want something more than your average fare of newly released movies or radio-favorite musical acts, you’re out of luck. That’s also what will help keep the younger demographic in town.
That’s just one perspective, but like I said, for me it’s the most obvious.
After hearing the Chamber’s pitch Friday for the retail recruitment plan, I’d say it sounds like a good bet to make. However, I use the term bet on purpose.
Any time an entity looks to spend money on a plan that is supposed to take X factor plus Y results to equal Z payoff, you don’t know for sure if that will ultimately happen. Certainly X and Y are a safe bet, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll get Z.
In terms of local spending, though, the plan is relatively safe. About $94,850 split among several groups to be spent over three years for a consultation by three people. As Estes said, that’s less than the cost of one person to do the same job for one year if put on a local payroll.
The study is supposed to be comprehensive and not only try to attract big-box retailers, but work with locals and help entrepreneurs identify areas that they can fill. Anyone interested in starting video, music and comic book shop? I’ll bite.
Also, the study is not just for LaGrange, but the unincorporated areas and West Point and Hogansville, too. As a West Point resident, I’m certainly ready for some nearby shopping that doesn’t require me to cross over to Valley, Ala.
So a contribution from each governmental entity, paid for by hotel-motel taxes that are paid by out-of-towners staying in our area, that is earmarked for tourism needs, can go toward this study that might help brings some needed options to Troup County. If it fails, then tourism money that would’ve been spent on other plans to promote the community goes down the drain.
If it succeeds, Troup County could see more jobs, more tax income and residents would have some places closer to home to do holiday shopping in the coming years. Like I said, it’s a bet, but it sounds like a safe one to me.