JEFFERSON — Despite tough economic times, businesses in downtown Jefferson are determined to make it.
Downtown Jefferson features the Crawford W. Long Museum, city hall and the post office, but there isn’t really a main draw to make the area a destination. Like most small towns, Jefferson’s downtown has office spaces, a pharmacy, a bank and a couple of book stores. And also like other downtown areas, there are a few empty store fronts.
But at a time when many restaurants and other businesses are closing, Fusion on the Square is just opening. The owners say so far they’ve been welcomed to Jefferson’s downtown with open arms.
The menu at Fusion on the Square features an eclectic mix of everything from lobster bisque to chicken salad sandwiches and Black Angus steaks. Reservations are encouraged, but not required.
"Our restaurant is really a fusion of many things. The food is a fusion of different cultures and even the atmosphere is a blend of upscale and casual," said Myrna Arndt, restaurant co-owner.
"There really wasn’t a place in Jefferson where you could enjoy a glass of wine after work, or get a good steak and so we wanted to fill in that gap. It’s more of a Buckhead concept, but we brought it to Jefferson because we believe in Jefferson and wanted to do what we could to support the city."
Even before officially opening in January at 82 North Public Square, which used to be a pizzeria, Arndt says that they did their part to help the Jefferson business community stay afloat.
"We tore this place down to basically the studs and we tried to use all local people during that process," she said. "We even used local CPAs and attorneys."
Other business owners in downtown agree they need to help each other keep going.
"We all sort of feed off each other," said Angela McKinney, owner of Hometown Treasures and Downtown Interiors and Gifts, "It used to be that people who were waiting for a prescription from the (Crawford Long) Pharmacy next door would come in and look around; that’s how we obtained a lot of new customers. And now that Fusion (on the Square) is here, that helps to bring in a lot of business, too."
McKinney bought Downtown Interiors four years ago and opened Hometown Treasures about 18 months ago. Sonja Jones, owner of Love’s Gifts, recently moved her business to downtown.
"We used to be further down the street, but not really in the downtown area," Jones said. "When this spot (beside Subway) became available, we snatched it up. I’m excited about all of the renovations that (the city) has planned for downtown."
Like many other business owners, Jones said business had slowed down to a point where she had to make a decision about whether or not she was going to close.
"I opened up (at my old location) about a year and a half ago, before the bottom fell out of the (economy)," Jones said. "There was a point right before we moved that I had to decide if I was going to stay in business or close. We moved here about a month ago and so far this has been the best month we’ve had in a very long time. Being in this spot, we get a lot of traffic from Subway. Every time we have a sale, I say ‘Thank you, God.’ We’ve been very blessed since we’ve moved."
Like McKinney and Arndt, Jones tries to help fellow business owners.
"I always encourage people to shop locally," Jones said. "If we all work together, and help one another, there’s no reason why we can’t all survive these tough times."
In that same spirit of cooperation, Jones and her aunt, Melissa Mooney, will be combining their businesses beginning next week.
"She owns Peyton’s Place in Commerce," Jones said. "She specializes more in home decor and vintage furniture, while Love’s Gifts is more designer-inspired purses and jewelry sets."
Jones and McKinney stress keeping their merchandise affordable is a key to having return customers, especially when most people have fewer dollars to spend on items that aren’t necessities.
McKinney said that while the current economic climate has been somewhat of a curse, it has also been a gift.
"The economy has worked in our favor because instead of driving to other places to shop, we have more people staying in Jefferson because they are trying to save money on gas," she said.