Saving the local economy - Joel Hall

As a recent college graduate, I boast no claims of being a major contributor to the local economy. A good part of my paycheck is spent keeping the college loan demons at bay.

However, I do what I can.

I buy all of my gas, groceries, and do the majority of my shopping inside of the county. At least once a week, I go out of my way to patronize at least one local restaurant, and at least one black-owned business.

Eating out during the week is a luxury of time and money, so when I have both, I tend to go to local restaurants. They tend to have better service and less expensive food than the national chains.

On Wednesday, a few of my interviews fell through, so I was left with an hour to kill before anybody could return my phone calls. I decided to use that time to slip out of the office and have lunch at Mama's Buffet on Tara Boulevard.

Now, Mama's Buffet is not like dining at the lunch buffet at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The food is pretty average, but for less than the price of a value meal at Burger King, I could leave full. The great service also makes up for any culinary shortfalls.

However, when I came to the restaurant, it was dark and devoid of movement. In the window, however, I could see mustard, ketchup, and sugar packets sitting uniformly on the tables.

Hungry and undeterred, I went in for a closer look, only to find that yet another one of my favorite restaurants had been shut down.

This is about the fifth time this has happened to me since I have lived in Clayton County, and its a little frustrating.

I spend a lot of time in Lake City and Forest Park, and a lot of my favorite places to eat and shop have slipped right out from under my nose. A farmer's market near Forest Parkway which I used to frequent for Milo, Nutella, and Cafe Du Monde Coffee (which all international stores seem to carry for some reason), closed down with no warning at all, about six months ago.

The Le Bailey Buffet in Lake City was a pretty nice place to eat for a few months. That closed down and reopened under new management, but it wasn't the same as I remembered it.

Hollywood Video is a godsend for struggling college grads. It's one of the few video rental places which doesn't require a credit card to have membership. I just learned their Lake City location is closing. With the closing, the only thing lighting that entire strip mall will be a lonely Pizza Hut delivery shop.

The Arrowhead Shopping Center, located on the edge of Jonesboro, is starting to get pretty scary, too. A pawn shop, done away by a fire, still sits in the middle of the shopping center with the "W" in pawn burnt off the sign. With the Office Depot moving down the street, and The Everest Institute moving away, the place has become a den for wanna-be rappers and mix-tape peddlers.

That isn't the prettiest picture to paint of Clayton County, but its the reality. A lot of businesses are disappearing before our eyes. I'm sure this is nothing new, but it leads me to believe that it is not just the economy which is causing the businesses to cave.

I've thought many times about one day opening my own business. Clayton County seems like fertile ground, because the population density, easy highway access, and diverse market are all there.

However, when I have bounced my business ideas off of other people, some who have lived here for years have said I'd be better off reserving my ideas for the Northside. A lot of people I talk to have chosen to take a defeatist point of view when it comes to business in Clayton County.

While it may be naive to think so, I believe Clayton County has a lot of economic potential. I think it will take a lot of savvy, forward-thinking investors to bring that potential into fruition, but I think it's definitely doable. I also think it will require locals to look at the glass half-full, rather than half-empty.

In the meantime, people who really want county businesses to stick around should patronize local businesses. Even if its an out-of-the-way safari, supporting them will be better for the county in the long run.

The economy isn't great right now and we all need a little help. However, the businesses need help, too, if they are going to survive.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.