Some Small Town Businesses Find It Hard To Keep Shoppers At Home

by Stuart Burson

Lots of East Texas shoppers are hitting the stores these days, doing their holiday shopping. It can sometimes be tough for small town retailers to compete with the shopping options available in the bigger cities nearby.

There aren't too many towns in East Texas with a thriving downtown square. In Center, just about every available space is taken. Especially during the holiday season, many retailers here have to compete for customers with nearby larger cities like Shreveport and Lufkin.

Ann Bowen has owned a shop in downtown Center for 24 years.

"When I first came into business, it wasn't that hard because people didn't get in their car and travel 60 miles to get one or two things. But, the world's getting smaller and everything."

Ann knows many local folks go out of town for their holiday shopping but, at least for her business, there are a few bright moments when traffic actually picks up.

"On the other side of that coin, right close to Christmas and, especially, right around Thanksgiving, we have a lot of out of town people who come here because they've come to Center to see mother and grandmother and whoever and, while they're here, they're shopping."

For Sandra Boles, it's a constant struggle to get the residents of Shelby County to shop at her store on the square.

"I change constantly to try to get people to come in and at least look. You know, a lot of people don't take the time to come in, and you can put signs up that say 50 percent off, and I don't know if it's the economy -- I just don't know what it is, but we just don't have the support for the small downtown area."

Adding to Sandra's frustration, the Center Wal-Mart will soon be expanding to a Super Wal-Mart. She fears that change could be the death-knell for downtown Center, but not everyone thinks that way.

"There's a lot of conversation about that, and I believe that the Super Wal-Mart coming to Shelby County will impact us in a lot of different ways, but the uniqueness and the personalized service that our retailers on the downtown square have to offer, I think, is going to offset that." says Joanna Martin with the Center Business Association.

Boles believes, when it comes to getting people to spend their money at small town shops like hers, it may take a higher authority to help out.

"What do I think it would take? I think it would take a serious act of God. I honestly don't know, because I've tried everything. My theory is, if you do not support your hometown, if you don't buy hometown, then you're going to wake up one day and there's not going to be hometown shopping."